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AM in Aerospace

July 18, 2015

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing,future — Terry Wohlers @ 14:39

The world of additive manufacturing is experiencing an interesting time in the aerospace industry. The technology holds tremendous promise for the production of both polymer and metal parts. Many aerospace companies are currently qualifying AM processes and materials and certifying designs at an unprecedented pace. What’s more, we expect it to accelerate in the coming months and years. This rapid growth could result in a demand for AM products and services that outpaces the supply, especially for metal parts.

Airbus has said that it plans to 3D print 30 tons of metal parts monthly by 2018, which is less than 30 months away. Already, the company has flown 3D-printed metal on commercial aircraft, and has built many impressive and complex parts that reduce material and weight by 40-50%, and sometimes more. Meanwhile, GE Aviation is working toward the production of tens of thousands of metal parts annually for jet engines with the construction of a $50 million manufacturing facility in Auburn, Alabama.

airbus
3D-printed sheet metal parts, which flew on the A350

The demand for AM becomes especially interesting when considering all of the other aerospace companies. Among them are BAE Systems, Bell Helicopter, Boeing, Bombardier, Embraer, General Dynamics, GKN Aerospace, and Honeywell Aerospace. Other companies include Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Pratt & Whitney, Raytheon, Rolls-Royce, SpaceX, and United Launch Alliance. Most of them have built infrastructures within their corporations to evaluate and implement AM.

The aerospace industry is a natural for the series production of parts by AM. The volumes are relatively low and the part complexity and value are high. With new designs that consolidate many parts into one, coupled with methods of reducing material and weight, AM becomes very compelling. Consequently, we can expect an exciting and thriving future for AM in the aerospace industry.

Cheap 3D Printers

July 4, 2015

Filed under: 3D printing,additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 10:28

Low-end, desktop 3D printers are becoming surprisingly inexpensive and they continue to decline in price. Some say that it’s a race to the bottom. At least three models are priced at under $400, with one—the QB-3D OneUp—selling for $199. The other two are the da Vinci Jr. from XYZprinting for $349 and the Play product from Printrbot for $399. All three are material extrusion “FDM clone” 3D printers.

We have not worked with any of the three, so we can’t say how easy they are to set up and use. And, we hesitate to comment on the quality of the parts they produce. We do know that you more or less get what you pay for. However, with the sub $2,000 3D printers, we see a lot of similarity in the quality of output, compared to the differences in the much higher-priced industrial-grade machines, which have an average selling price of $87,140. Some desktop 3D printers offer surprisingly good quality, considering the price.

OneUp

Companies are buying many of these low-cost products for early design concepts. In the past, these same companies would spend 10-30 times more for a machine to produce basic concepts models. Put another way, they can purchase 10-30 machines for the same money they spent previously on one machine.

Indeed, the market has changed, and it’s causing many to rethink their modeling and prototyping strategy. At the low-end of the cost spectrum, companies, educational institutions, and hobbyists have an unprecedented number of options. We believe that more than 300 brands of under $5,000 3D printers are now available, with most of them priced at under $2,000. For a review of several 3D printers priced under $1,000, see this product review.