3D Printing in Aerospace & Defense

The aerospace and defense industry include a range of commercial, industrial and military applications, and is comprised of departments that design, manufacture, operate and maintain the aircraft, spacecraft, along with land based vehicles and ships. Among the first advocates of 3D printing, the airline industry is a driving force in the evolution of this technology for both manufacturing end-use parts and prototyping. Airlines depend on 3D printing to alleviate supply chain constraints, limit warehouse space and reduce wasted materials from traditional manufacturing processes. 3D printingThe airline industry is also one of the biggest disruptors or legacy supply-chain and delivery. Rapidly producing aircraft parts on demand saves enormous amounts of space, time and money. It reduces the actual number of parts needed to build and allows the combination of parts that are printed as one part. This reduces the potential of failure and maintenance once the part is in production.

In fact, minimizing weight is the number one way that aerospace and defense manufacturing companies save money because weight affects an aircraft’s payload, fuel consumption, emissions, speed and even safety. Unlike traditional manufacturing processes, such as CNC where material is removed to create a part, GorilaMaker creates parts from the base up, layer-by-layer, allowing complex geometries and streamlined designs with less overall components. This all translates to reduced weight in the air. Since you are adding material rather than removing material, this process also drastically reduces waste during manufacturing. Air ducts, wall panels, seat frameworks and even engine components have all benefited from reduced weight enabled by 3D printing.

3D Printing – Innovating Fast & Flying with Confidence

Aerospace engineers rely on Fused Deposition Modeling (FDM) Technology for prototyping, tooling and part manufacturing. FDM works with high-performance thermoplastics, including ULTEM 9085, to build jigs, fixtures, check gauges and end-use aircraft parts. Designers in aerospace have long embraced FDM for concept modeling and prototyping.

3D printing in Defense vehicles, Aircraft, ships and land based vehicles allows the confidence of access to critical parts once the asset has been deployed.

Aerospace 3D Printing in Action

Fortune magazine recently reported on what they term as the bestselling aircraft engine that entered production in 2015.  The Leap engine produced by GE was conceived with the assistance of 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing.

What makes this engine noteworthy is  the 3D printing process that was utilized in order to produce the engines fuel nozzles.  Each Leap engine has 19 nozzles, each having to withstand temperatures up to 3000 degrees Fahrenheit.

GE was able to take the 20 separate parts that were once machined together to comprise the nozzle’s interior passageways and construct them into once piece that is built up by layering powdered metals melted and fused together.  This process makes the nozzles five times stronger than those made through the standard milling process.

Continuing on the current path, by 2020, GE will be manufacturing well in excess of 100,000 parts via additive manufacturing for the Leap and other aircraft engines.

The intent of utilizing additive manufacturing is to bring about cost-savings in the manufacturing process.  This will also allow them to buildout factory and employee capacity to create a wider suite of engine components that can not be machined through traditional manufacturing processes.

“The real power of additive (manufacturing) is taking six parts and designing it into one.  You can created geometry that you can’t make in any other way,” says Greg Morris, Business Development Manager of Additive Technologies at GE Aviation.