3D Printing Technology and the Aerospace Industry: Part One

From Airplane Parts To NASA Spacecrafts

Annual additive manufacturing grows about 24% each year, with the 3D printing market expected to reach approximately $21 billion dollars worldwide. The market for additive manufacturing is growing at breakneck speeds driven by an expansive new wave of entrepreneurship, and more effective 3D printing materials, techniques, and technology. 3D printing has changed, disrupted every industry across the globe. It has changed the way we design and produce clothes, cars, kitchens, and whole homes.

One industry benefits largely from 3D printing and that’s aerospace. Since 1989, aerospace has adopted the emerging technology gaining steam over the next couple of decades. Contributing to 16% of 3D printing overall revenues in 2015, additive manufacturing is being used to help with commercial airplane production, the creation of new spacecraft, and even the production of satellites. The technology is helping humans travel from country to country, to the moon, and beyond. In fact, it could eventually help our species colonize new planets.

Like many other industries, 3D printing is fascinating because it allows companies to prototype ideas fast, or create fully functioning elements at a fraction of the cost and in significantly less time than standard manufacturing methods. Hyper-customization will enable engineers to print parts on demand to fit any potential design challenge or repair job. In short, the aerospace industry is using this opportunity to produce expensive parts lighter, more reliable, and quickly than ever before.

So, how has 3D printing been used in the aerospace industry?

For one, commercial planes are starting to use 3D printed parts. 3D printing can reduce the weight of some aircraft by as much as 40-60%, In fact, a single element designed and manufactured with 3D printing could minimize air drag by 2.1%, which in turn decrease fuel costs by 5.41%. Airbus has fitted their A350 XWB aircraft with over 1,000+ 3D printed parts. Also, companies like Boeing and Airbus can speed up production. Filling all of the necessary orders of commercial planes, with both companies having 5,000-8,000 planes backlogged annually, is a challenge. It has been estimated that Boeing, so far, has used 60,000 parts for its planes.