8 Reasons Why 3D Printing For Aerospace Makes Sense

Sept. 5, 2017 by Shane Michael Fox

3D Printing — the Future or the Present?

At first, 3D printing was perceived only as a niche product for building figures and designing mock-versions of actual items. Originally, its implications were simple, and the complexity of the items it could produce seemed feeble and comical. It also wasn't cheap, but this quickly changed.

Eventually, with the exponential advancement of 3D printers, prices went down, the hardware improved, and the variety of materials that could be used in 3D printing vastly increased. This opened the door to countless innovation in dozens of industries — aerospace being one of them.

From transforming the engineering behind thrusters and fuel nozzles to economic improvements in the aerospace supply chain, the adoption of 3D printing in aerospace manufacturing is slowly becoming the industry standard. Despite the rapid commercialization of 3D printing in aerospace, some may wonder; "Why use 3D printing?". Link3D is here to help with 8 reasons why.

Reduced Material Weight

Through increasingly intricate design and usage of laser sintering technology in 3D printers, the creation of stronger and lighter versions of aerospace vehicles are possible. Although printing an entire airplane from scratch isn't currently possible, 3D printing can easily reduce a plane's weight by 40–60%.

Virtual Warehouse

Rather than needing to spend money and resources on housing and transporting all the necessary pieces to build an entire plane, 3D printing allows manufacturers to only use a virtual warehouse. A virtual warehouse is essentially a compilation of data that contains all the information necessary in order to create a product.

Instead of using a physical warehouse to retrieve a particular tool to create an engine, 3D printing could print one out when needed. This process eliminates any wasted space that would otherwise be taken by pieces waiting to be used.

Production Without Tools

Going hand-in-hand with the vast reduction of warehouse space being used for manufacturing, 3D printing also reduces the number of necessary tools in a manufacturing plant. For example, rather than needing 10 machines to create 10 different parts, one machine (a printer) would make all 10 parts consecutively. Doing this decreases equipment purchasing costs, machine maintenance expenses, and increases speed and simplicity.

Part Consolidation

In addition to needing fewer machines in a single plant, 3D printing also removes the need of hiring people or purchasing more machines to physically assemble all the pieces of any larger, more complicated section of a vehicle (like an engine). Rather than having 500 separate pieces that need to be assembled into an engine, a 3D printer would just assemble each part as they're created. To the next point, 3D printers increase overall manufacturing speed.

Manufacturing Speed

Through the use of 3D printers, a manufacturer is able to produce parts from CAD designs within a matter of potentialOutputHours (depending on the size of the part) which would regularly take a day or more. This extremely fast turnaround rate allows manufacturers who use 3D printers to easily outpace the competition and even decrease costs in inventory storage space.

Reduced Waste

Before 3D printing, the most common method to creating goods was subtractive manufacturing; cutting and removing pieces of a material in order to create an object. With 3D printing, the opposite is done — materials are placed in layers on top of one another in particulars shapes in order to manufacture an item. Not only does this reduce physical waste (pieces leftover from subtractive manufacturing) and maximize overall use of materials, but it also reduces the amount of energy used in order to create a tool.

Shape Complexity

One of the biggest benefits to using 3D printing tooling fabrication in manufacturing/ engineering is the ability to produce extremely complex shapes and figures consistently, quickly, and with ease. Similar to how the printing press revolutionized the speed and complexity of typography in the 1400s, 3D printing is doing the same — and then some.

Supply Chain Efficiency

Rather than manufacturing dozens of separate pieces that need to be assembled at different phases down the supply chain, 3D printing has made it possible, for example, for entire sections of a rocket to be assembled at one time without increasing transportation costs. With unnecessary steps in the supply chain being removed, more items can be manufactured in less time, thus decreasing the time to market.

With present day technology exponentially increasing in complexity and advancement speed, it's extremely easy to get left behind. Understanding up-and-coming innovations is elementary to remaining relevant in any industry. To many, 3D printing might sound magical and unrealistic to use in a factory setting. This isn't true. 3D printing isn't going to be commercialized tomorrow — it's being commercialized today. Don't fall behind.

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