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3D printing: A real game-changer for aeronautics

Introduction

3D printing is offering new perspectives for many different sectors, and aeronautics is one of them. How is this sector using additive manufacturing, what are the different factors and advantages accelerating the implementation of this manufacturing technique? Additive manufacturing became a real asset for this industry for prototyping and even more for production!  Let’s discover how the aeronautics industry uses 3D printing and learn about all of its benefits for this sector.

3D printing for prototyping and proof of concepts

Widely known for its great prototyping abilities, additive manufacturing can be a great partner for your prototyping process. This manufacturing technique has a lot of advantages to offer to the aeronautic industry and its prototyping process or to develop advanced proofs of concept. 

  • High level of details

3D printing techniques are more and more advanced, offering the possibility to get highly detailed parts which are excellent advantages for visual prototypes with plastics or resins. For functional prototypes in plastic we can recommend the use of: Nylon PA12, Multi Jet Fusion PA12, or TPU (if you need flexible parts). Regarding your options when it comes to resin, our Prototyping Resin will be the perfect fit for visual and non-functional prototypes, producing parts similar to injection molded parts. 

  •  Iteration freedom 

One of the main benefits of additive manufacturing is the freedom offered in terms of volume. While using a 3D printing service, for example, no minimum order is required: you can print 1, 10, 100 or more parts. And this is an incredible advantage while prototyping. You can manufacture one part to perform tests, adjust your 3D model, and print a new version; iterating to improve your projects as never been so simple!

  •  Lead times

Some important parts can take weeks to be manufactured using CNC, molding, or other traditional manufacturing technique. Time is money, and if you want to get a prototype validated as fast as possible: 3D printing can help you with that. Using additive manufacturing can significantly shorten your lead times.

Improving production with 3D printing​

Producing with additive manufacturing

We know additive manufacturing for its prototyping advantages, in some sectors, such as aeronautics, this technology is now becoming a common production technique. Moreover, additive manufacturing can be used for different applications and purposes. This cutting-edge technology can be implemented on different levels.

From metal components to engine compartment and cabin accessories, additive manufacturing can help you develop important parts of your projects thanks to its flexibility and its reliability. New material developments are also opening possibilities for metals, plastics and resins to be easily 3D printed with professional 3D printers. 

An industry making the most of advanced 3D printing materials

We can notice a great use of the metal 3D printing technology in the aeronautic industry. Usually, plastic materials are the most used as they are cheaper and adaptable to any kind of projects, but in this special industry, the most used materials are metals.

Indeed, aeronautics is mainly using the additive manufacturing technology for production, and is usually working on really resistant and technical parts, metal appears to be a great solution for this sector. Safety and quality are the main priorities in this sector. Metal 3D printing is more and more developed and aeronautic have different needs and use expensive technologies and materials. 

  • Ultrafuse® 316L Stainless Steel, will be the most affordable metal 3D printing option if you want to print metal part for your prototyping process. This reliable metal material is offering the possibility to manufacture parts using the FDM technology.
Ultrafuse 316L
  • Titanium 6AI-4V 3D, this material is precise thanks to the resolution of the laser and the thinness of each layer of powder (30 to 40 µm). With a density of 4.41g/cm3 the material is lightweight but has excellent mechanical characteristics.

Titanium 6AI-4V

But metal is not the only 3D printing material with advanced mechanical properties and the development of high-performance materials is opening new possibilities for demanding industries such as aeronautics.

Here are some high performance materials that you could think about for your next project:

  • Ultrasint® PP nat 01Polypropylene is one of the most used plastic materials in some sectors such as automotive. It can totally be used in aeronautics: it is a strong and lightweight material, with a great chemical resistance. Airtight and watertight, this polypropylene material is perfect to create fluid reservoirs.
  • Ultrasint® PA6 MF (Mineral Filled), has a particularly high strength and rigidity, and great heat resistance. The melting point of PA6 MF is 220 °C! Moreover, PA6 MF is strong enough to hold a whole engine assembly and handle all heat, vibration and static loads.

Using an online 3D printing service

Working with a reliable manufacturing partner is essential in such demanding sectors. That is where an online 3D printing service such as Sculpteo can help you in the development of your projects. 

Manufacturing parts for the aeronautics industry is not only expensive but requires a lot of expertise to operate correctly, and investing in professional 3D printers might not be your priority right now. With a strong expertise in additive manufacturing, Sculpteo will be the perfect partner to produce the parts you need and help you understand all the benefits of additive manufacturing. 

Advantages of the use of additive manufacturing in aeronautics

Creating technical parts

While using additive manufacturing technologies, you are totally free to make all the designs that you want using efficient 3D modeling software. It is making it possible to build parts with elaborated designs and complex geometries, answering to special needs and projects. 3D printing is becoming a real alternative to traditional manufacturing techniques as it is now allowing these companies to work efficiently thanks to new materials and efficient technologies. 

It is giving the possibility to rethink a project to create stronger and lighter parts. As the Head of Sculpteo Studio, Alexandre d’Orsetti, explained recently, “This freedom of geometry is key to making more complex parts, in which many functions can be integrated. A complex part isn’t more expensive to produce, as volume and material quantity is what drives costs up.

At Sculpteo, we have a team of professional industrial designers, their role is to use their expertise to help you find the best way possible to implement 3D printing in your company, by improving your processes and your products.

Improving the profitability of a company

We saw just previously that in aeronautics, companies are using additive manufacturing mainly for production. They are actually improving the production process using a profitable manufacturing technique. We saw in a previous focus on the aeronautic industry in one of our last State of 3D printing reports: companies were trusting this manufacturing technique 

We saw in this study that the budget for 3D printing is really high in this sector, more than in sectors such as consumer goods. It is showing that companies trust this technology and do not hesitate to spend more money year over year in 3D printing. As they are also increasing their revenue, we can say that they are satisfied with it.

The high cost of aeronautics development is partially explained by the ineffective amortization of tooling costs over a low production volume. With industrial 3D printing, whether your print one piece or a bigger series, there is no impact on the amortization as you don’t need to create a mold. Thus, the additive manufacturing process is perfectly tailored for short series production for aerospace companies.

Going further: What is aeronautic 3D printing?

This technology is really promising for the future of the aeronautics industry. Aerospace, aeronautics, they are all using this amazing technology to build even tougher devices. But what do they print exactly? Using professional 3D printers is a good way to produce new impressive projects, here are some examples.

 

Aircraft parts

3D printing can be used to create aircraft parts.  For instance, the company Emirates Airlines used the Selective Laser Sintering technique to build monitoring projects and ventilation grills of an aircraft. Actually, it can be used for various different parts of an aircraft, and it appears to be a good solution to create custom made parts for aircrafts, as 3D printing is allowing mass-customization.

Airbus is also making the most of additive manufacturing by manufacturing metal brackets, playing an important role in the architecture of the engine. Using Additive Manufacturing to produce 3D printed engine brackets resulted in 90% less waste and 10% lighter structure! The parts will be installed in GE Aviation’s GEnx-28 engines, used in the Boeing 747-8. 

 

3D printed turbines

Metal 3D printing is allowing to manufacture technical parts such as turbines. Indeed, the project Futuralve wants to manufacture a new technology and more precisely new high-speed turbines, made with metal 3D printers. These turbines have quite complex geometries, and the only way to manufacture them is to use the 3D printing technology. Renishaw helped to develop a special 3D printing material for this project, a nickel alloy to print these components. The new material has to be lightweight and resist to really high temperature and force.

photo credit: Renishaw

photo credit: Renishaw

 

Improving the final products

Pratt & Whitney Engines used nickel and titanium to 3D print some parts of their engines. They developed their product faster than usual, saving months of work, and they also reduced the weight of their arts by 50%. This is the proof that additive manufacturing really allows to rework your product, by finding new designs, more adapted to your projects.

Are you working in aeronautics and looking for a new production technique? Are you ready to manage your cost and optimize your product design with our online 3D printing service? Contact our sales team, they will answer all your questions and you will be able to make the most of our online 3D printing service.

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