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.
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.