Additive manufacturing for aerospace

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Additive manufacturing is becoming increasingly important in the aerospace industry. Additive manufacturing is the process whereby a product is ‘built’ with the help of 3D design data. This build-up is done by depositing materials layer by layer. In simpler terms, additive manufacturing is achieved by building a part from the ground up. It could also be called 3D printing or e-manufacturing.

Additive manufacturing is a fairly new technology that is gradually gaining grounds particularly in the aerospace industry. A very good example is the ‘plane that is being flown with 1,000 3D printed parts’. This was done in the Airbus A350 XWB aircraft. In this aircraft, Airbus 3D printed more than 1000 flight parts to speed up the manufacturing process. This is just an example of how 3D printing is becoming a very good alternative to traditional manufacturing process (subtractive manufacturing).

Additive manufacturing is becoming extremely important as the customer needs in aerospace engineering are becoming higher by the day. The need for engines with higher efficiency and for parts of the aircraft to be more aerodynamic and light weight structures is becoming very necessary. The major challenge with meeting these needs is the fact that with traditional manufacturing techniques, some parts are extremely difficult to manufacture or outrightly impossible to create. So design engineers usually design using manufacturing driven design. With additive manufacturing, there is a shift from manufacturing driven design to design driven manufacturing. Additive manufacturing makes the production parts with highly complex shapes very possible.

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Additive manufacturing is seen as the key to the next industrial revolution. This is because products that seemed impossible to manufacture will now be possible. There are various categories of Additive Manufacturing. These categories include:

  • Vat photopolymerisation
  • Material Jetting
  • Binder jetting
  • Material extrusion
  • Powder Bed Fusion
  • Sheet Lamination
  • Directed Energy Deposition

Advantages of Additive Manufacturing

As we can see, there are numerous advantages of using Additive Manufacturing techniques. These advantages include the following.

  • It allows for complexity
  • It allows for variety
  • Little or no assembly required
  • Lower lead time
  • Lower-skill manufacturing
  • Little or no constraints
  • Less materials wasted
  • Materials can be made in different colors/shades

Disadvantages of Additive Manufacturing

There are also a few disadvantages to the use of Additive manufacturing. They are:

  • Slow build rates
  • High production costs
  • Requires a bit of post-processing
  • Requires a lot of knowledge of the addictive manufacturing machine to be able to manufacture quality parts
  • Poor mechanical properties. This is caused by defects from voids that are formed from layering

If these disadvantages are solved, additive manufacturing will become a replacement to subtractive manufacturing.

The Aerospace engineering industry has been known to be very innovative and always challenging the boundary of human potential. Additive manufacturing is still pretty new and has a lot of potentials in the aerospace industry.

Additive manufacturing is applicable in these areas.

  • Prototyping
  • Testing
  • Tooling

Additive manufacturing is still in its early days, and with the steady growth and numerous research in this area, it will become the major means of manufacture in the aerospace engineering industry.

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I am an aerospace engineering graduate student at Concordia University, Montreal.
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