3D Printing Aircraft Parts: Manufacturing in the Aerospace Industry

3D printing is a new technology that has the potential to revolutionise manufacturing. One such industry where 3D printing has become a major player is the aviation industry. Aerospace companies are increasingly turning to 3D printing for the production of flight-qualified parts. These 3D-printed designs can be customised to suit the needs of each client, and offer a cost-effective alternative that is less wasteful than traditional manufacturing methods.

How Are Aircraft Parts 3D-Printed

However, aircraft parts that are 3D-printed will need to undergo a certification process to deem it suitable for flight operations. Only after meeting stringent requirements — which will take some time — can they be used. This can include FAA, EASA, IASA certification and local aerospace approval and certification. Bear in mind that each country has their own aerospace authority and in Singapore, the production of 3D-printed parts have to be in accordance with the Civil Aviation Authority of Singapore (CAAS) airworthiness certification standards. With that in mind, here are the two most common 3D printing processes used in low-volume manufacturing and rapid prototyping of aircraft parts:

FDM

FDM 3D printing is a process of additive manufacturing that creates objects from digital designs. The Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) process starts with a computer-aided design, which is then sliced into layers and programmed to print one layer at a time. Layer by layer, the printer lays down successive lines of thermoplastic filament until the object takes form.

In this way, FDM printers can be used to create prototypes or production parts for any number of industries including aerospace and automotive engineering. This can be accomplished through Stratasys F900-certified printers, for instance, that have large build chambers to accommodate the production of aerospace parts.

Click to learn more about online FDM 3D printing services in Singapore.

SLS

In the 3D printing industry, Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) is also one of the most popular methods. SLS is a 3D printing method that uses lasers to fuse together powdered material. The laser selectively sinters the particles in layers. This creates products with high strength and accuracy as well as flexibility because of the low melting point of many materials used for SLS.

Since this process does not need support structures like other additive manufacturing processes, it can be used to create complex geometries that could not otherwise be manufactured with traditional subtractive methods such as milling or injection moulding. P 770 polymer 3D printers by EOS, for example, can offer SLS 3D printing technology and deliver flight-ready parts.  

How is 3D Printing Used in Aviation: Benefits

There are many benefits to using 3D printing in the aerospace industry, including timely aircraft repairs and replacements as well as increased design flexibility. This not only reduces weight but also allows organisations to produce parts that were previously too complex to manufacture reliably without expensive tooling investments. The time it takes to complete a design is also much less than traditionally produced parts – in some cases taking only hours rather than days or weeks. From supporting your product development processes to speeding up the production of spare parts and overcoming supply chain challenges, 3D printing can play an integral role in aircraft design and development.   

What Aerospace Parts are 3D-Printed?

As covered by Stratasys Direct, among the common 3D-printed parts include fuel tanks, air filter boxes, battery compartments, component connectors and many more applications. The use of this technology in production and design is expected to lead to new innovations and advances in aircraft, which will make them safer, more efficient, and environmentally friendly. The recent HERON project, for instance, will manufacture the leading edge, torsion box and trailing edge that make up the aircraft wing. This will allow the airplane to be more fuel-efficient. Here are more examples of successful projects:

1. Luxury aircraft parts

Luxury aircraft parts consisting of adjustable touch screen brackets, light switch panels, latches and more

2. Demonstrators

Demonstrator by ST Engineering, printed using PA2241FR material and the EOS P396 printer through SLS 3D printing.

3. Aircraft cabin interiors

The 3D printed spacer panels for Airbus' commercial aircraft met all of the company's strict aesthetic requirements

4. Flying spare parts

No longer available from the original supplier, this A320ceo wingtip fence – for Satair, an Airbus services company – is the first certified metal-printed flying spare part globally.

5. Turbine component repairs

Most recently, Optomec announced the delivery of a $1 million multi-functional metal 3D printer to a long-standing customer. This will come in handy in the repair of aircraft engine turbine components and industrial gas turbines.

Reshaping the Aerospace Industry

The aerospace industry is constantly striving to produce aircraft that are more efficient, faster and lighter. With continued research into this relatively new technology, more companies will see its value and adopt it for their own use. If you’re interested in applying additive manufacturing to your own parts, discuss your project with the expert team at Additive3D Asia today.