3D printing in aircraft – Polish contribution to aerospace development
It is enough to reduce the aircraft weight by one kilogram to cut down on its carbon dioxide production by 25 tons throughout its lifetime. Producers are seeking lighter and more durable materials. This is where 3D print can be of great help – its benefits have already been appreciated by such big corporations as Airbus and Boeing.
It is expected that 75% of new commercial and military aircraft will contain 3D printed parts by 2021. In 2014 Airbus started tests on titanium components made with this technology and since 2017 they have been used in serial aircraft. The cabins of Airbus A320 flying for Finnair are provided with 3D printed components visible for passengers – they are panels which fill the gaps in the rows of overhead lockers.
Since 1997 Boeing has been carrying out research and development on using additive technology for aircraft production. Nowadays the company has a collection of over 60,000 printed parts. They can be found both in commercial and military aircraft.
Lighter means more economical
3D printed components are by about 55% lighter than those produced with traditional methods. They also allow the reduction of material consumption by as much as 90%. That is why additive technology has been attracting the attention of the global aerospace giants for many years now. Big corporations and small enterprises in the sector make 3D printed aircraft and helicopter parts, as well as lighter and more efficient engines and turbines. Due to safety reasons, the 3D technology has been used for making of non-critical parts which are not subject to the heaviest overloads. The technology serves the production of brackets/supports of aircraft systems but also visible parts of cabins. Boeing has been testing making of bigger structures, e.g. parts of wings.
3D technology saves time and money. More interestingly, it can be implemented in already used aircraft. There is no need to wait many years until a new generation of machines is developed. A component in an existing aircraft model can be easily replaced with a lighter 3D printed version. Another advantage is that spare parts can be designed virtually, printed and then tested almost in no time.
Not all materials are the same
There is no doubt that besides the weight of parts which contribute to the aircraft weight and hence fuel consumption and CO2 emission to the atmosphere, robust materials able to sustain heavy loads and ensuring safety plays a very important role in aerospace. That is why initially producers used to print mainly plastic parts on 3D printers. However, filaments have been gradually improved with the development of 3D technology. Materials reinforced with glass or carbon fibers can now be used for production, which means new implementation areas for 3D printed components in aircraft.
Airbus has introduced new materials into its planes. The company installed a 3D printed titanium bracket for the first time in serial production of A350 XWB. The bracket is a part of a pylon which connects the wings with the engines. Some Airbus A320neo and A350 XWB test planes use 3D printed metal brackets and venting pipes.
Printer manufacturers have been closely observing the needs of the industry to propose customised solutions to cater for the growing needs of users. 3D print supports production because it enables faster and cheaper manufacture of machine components, spare parts or finished small-series products with no material losses and practically of any shapes. More importantly the items are also more durable. The best printers are featured with a number of replaceable heads suited to the filament type. The new and more robust material does not require changing the whole printer but only buying an additional head. The solution is quick and easy to implement
Sebastian Pietruszewski, Key Account Manager at 3DGence
Polish contribution to aerospace development
Polish aerospace market provides a number of examples of using 3D print. MB Aerospace Poland specializes in technologically advanced heat and surface treatment for the aerospace sector. It launches new products and makes parts for aircraft engines production. With regard to the needs of the aerospace sector components made of aluminum, stainless steel or superalloys based on nickel and titanium have to be highly accurate. 3D printing technology has been implemented in some stages of production.
The company uses additive production technology to make prototypes and accessories for fixing parts to CNC machines and tests new solutions. The production of special accessories for fixing parts to CNC machines is time- and money-consuming. Owing to 3DGence printer MB Aerospace makes e.g. compression sleeves used for turning tools to fix an aircraft part during processing. The solution brings significant savings.
MB Aerospace from Rzeszów has used 3D print to make marking tools from PLA filament. A prototype printed in FDM technology helped to produce a finished item protecting a part from damage – it eliminates vibration during treatment. The price of a similar steel item amounts to ca. 520 EUR while the printed one costs about 2,50 EUR.
The 3D revolution in aerospace is possible not only owing to aircraft producers but also thanks to Polish companies that design and make 3D printers. The MB Aerospace, company cooperating with us, uses also the 3DGence INDUSTRY F340 3D printer, which allows them to print elements from PEEK material. It is a filament with excellent mechanical and thermal properties, used for years in the aviation industry.
According to the forecasts in the recently published results of studies carried out by Research and Markets, the 3D print market in aerospace will grow by 23.01% until 2021. The industry has already been using additive technology successfully, while aerospace giants declare that there will be more areas for 3D print breakthrough implementation in their sector.
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3D printing has great potential and that is why it must not be neglected. Despite the fact that good equipment means significant investment those who will be the first to implement the technology in their plants can gain a lot as compared to their competitors.