- 3D Printing is widely used in aviation.
- Civilian aircraft, aero engines and general aviation are some of the applications.
The aviation industry was one of the first to look widely into 3D printing. Today we can see that this industry uses 3D printing extensively. With 3D printing you can develop parts quickly and iterate them throughout your design process. 3D printing is also a cost effective technology in producing short runs of end use parts. In aviation part run numbers are low when compared to the automobile industry for example. Reducing the overall number of parts also lets companies reduce cost and assembly. By reducing part count the need for molds, tooling and storage of these parts is also diminished. Additionally parts can be redesigned for 3D printing in order to save weight and this is critical in aircraft. Buy to Fly ratios are also significantly improved because 3D printing uses less material than other processes. The aviation industry uses 3D printing in prototyping like many other industries do. Where the aviation industry is leading others however is in the use of 3D printed parts for end use applications. Many OEMs and Tier 1 and Tier 2 aviation companies are now looking to certify more materials, processes and parts for aviation.
In civilian aircraft 3D printed parts are used primarily in ducts currently. These ducting parts are currently flying on several models of commercial aircraft. Boeing pioneered the use of 3D printing in civilian aviation and is using tens of thousands of 3D printed parts on civilian aircraft. ECS ducting (Environmental Control Systems) provides airflow for passengers, pressurization, heating and cooling. These ducts snake their way through the aircraft and often have to make complex twists and turns to reach their destinations. Some of these ducts become so complicated that it is impossible to make them with traditional molding processes. For these ducts 3D printing provides the ideal solution. By building up shapes layer by layer 3D printing can in a cost effective way manufacture these ducts. These are very low volume parts and the ability to make them essentially on demand is a key advantage.
Both Airbus and GE have talked about using 3D printing to make brackets in aircraft. Airbus wants to install these on next generation aircraft as well. By redesigning for 3D printing these kinds of parts could save significant weight. Airbus also tested out an idea for a 3D printed partition that saves 45% weight compared to the partitions currently in use in the A320 aircraft. This partition was made through 3D printing and generative design.