If we reduce the weight of the aircraft by one kilogram, it will be enough for the machine to emit 25 tons less carbon dioxide throughout its life. This surprising truth is why weight reduction is considered the Holy Grail of aerospace engineering.
The potential to reduce CO2 emissions due to the reduction of the weight of the aircraft means that manufacturers, looking for lighter and more durable materials, increasingly use 3D printing. The aviation industry accepted the Additive Manufacturing process early on and continues to contribute significantly to its development.
Some companies in the industry started using this technology as early as 1989, and leading companies are constantly increasing the use of 3D printing to accelerate production processes, save costs and reduce fuel consumption by aircraft. For Airbus (EADSF) and Boeing (BA), the insertion of AM technology also helped reduce the need for expensive, traditional molded tools that must be produced well in advance and not always modifiable.
By 2021, 75% of new commercial and military aircraft are projected to contain many 3D-printed parts that are better than those made with traditional methods and, above all, lighter than the original – sometimes by more than 70%.
Airbus additively produces components that weigh 55% less, further reducing the use of raw materials by up to 90% and reducing waste.
WHAT AIRCRAFT COMPONENTS CAN BE PRODUCED IN ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING
For safety reasons, 3D printing technology is not used in the production of so-called critical parts, exposed to the greatest overload. Additive technologies are used, among others, for the production of brackets supporting various installations in the plane, but also more and more often visible elements of the cabin.
Boeing is currently testing additive manufacturing of larger structures, such as parts of wings. The company has been conducting research and development work in the field of 3D printing in the production of aircraft since 1997. Today it has over 60,000 3D printed parts that can be found in both commercial and military machines.
Airbus produces panels that filling the gaps in the row of stowage spaces above the seats in 3d printing technology. This parts are visible for passengers. Some A320neo and A350 XWB test aircraft had 3D printed metal cabin supports and vent pipes.
One of the main advantages of 3D printing is that it simplifies complex parts. With additive technologies such as SLS or MJF, for example, many complex parts that were previously built from a combination of many components can be reduced to one. GE is a good example of this.
Using traditional manufacturing methods, an assembly of 20 different parts was used to build the fuel nozzle on LEAP engines.
Using additive production, it was integrated into a single element, the strength of which increased five times and the weight decreased by 25%.
By applying layers to the material only where it is needed – for example at pressure points – additive technologies significantly reduce the weight of aircraft, which in the case of GE and nozzle optimization resulted in fuel savings of 15%.
3D printed nozzles are currently in series production, and GE had additively produced over 30,000 nozzles by the end of 2019.
Aerosport Modeling & Design as a company specializing in the development of experimental aircraft uses HP MJF 3D technology in the transformation of the rudders, reducing the number of elements from 26 to 4, which significantly speeds up assembly. Many planes have a stiff trim tab that can be adjusted on the ground by flexing to reduce the need for the pilot to push the rudder, but there are also some that can be adjusted in flight. The integration of such a system allows the pilot to more smoothly adjust the flight and descent direction, but most of all it speeds up the replacement of
3D PRINTING IS SHAPING THE FUTURE OF AIRCRAFT MAINTENANCE, REPAIR AND INSPECTION
Satair, an Airbus subcontractor, wanted to speed up aircraft maintenance by producing on-demand tools. During a common pilot project with Fast Radius, which specializes in additive on-demand manufacturing, three new tools were designed and manufactured with HP Multi Jet Fusion technology: GAGS pads, tools for equalizing blade bearing and tool for flaps locking in zero position.
The HP Jet Fusion 580 color 3D printer was specially selected for this application due to a number of advantages, including: mechanical properties of the offered prints and acceleration of design time. Besides the full spectrum of colors, HP 3D printing makes possible the production of parts with optimal mechanical properties and allows for multiple iterations of the design, which significantly reduces product development time.
Due to the durability requirements that the tools must meet, the HP 3D High Reusability PA 12 material was used – a thermoplastic polyamide with excellent chemical resistance to oils, greases, aliphatic hydrocarbons and alkalis.
HP 3D Printing also provides new ways to show information such as company logos, serial numbers, and even QR codes printed directly on the tool.
Besides to the acceleration of the production process, it was also possible to shorten the supply chain by using the so-called Fast Radius virtual magazines, allowing you to print the necessary tool from a digital file archived in the cloud.
According to various market reports, the aviation industry accounts for around 20% of the AM market, which offers numerous benefits for the sector – from parts consolidation, inventory reduction, to lower operating costs and fuel consumption. The reduction of weight, which contributes to the reduction of CO2 emissions, also takes place thanks to optimized, revolutionary designs that can only be produced incrementally.
The 3D revolution in the aviation industry is therefore largely due to the development of technologies and materials for 3D printing, and the newly manufactured components can be introduced into currently operated aircraft, not just next-generation machines.