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Phillips Federal News

3D Printing as an Alternative Manufacturing Method for the Aerospace Industry

3D Printing as an Alternative Manufacturing Method for the Aerospace Industry

The Aerospace Industry was one of the early adopters of 3D printing systems and still is a major contributor to its development. The industry started using 3D printing in 1989 and has been leveraging the benefits of stronger and lighter parts created using additive manufacturing methodologies.

 3D Printing in the Aerospace Design Workflow 

The aerospace industry can benefit from a 3D printing machine at all stages of the design workflow as described below:

1. Accurate models

In the aerospace industry, most designs begin as concept models that highlight a specific component of a spacecraft. These models also help in aerodynamic testing – an important aspect of the industry. Usually, engineers use Stereolithography and Material Jetting to create scale models that are highly detailed and smooth. These models allow them to showcase the concept clearly.

2. Prototype Validation

A 3D printing machine allows engineers to test and validate the performance of the prototype in a low-cost and time-efficient manner.

3. Production

Traditionally, 3D printing had restrictions on the speed and volumes of parts that can be manufactured. The aerospace industry usually has production volumes of thousands of parts per year. Hence, 3D printing systems were used only for prototypes and not for the manufacture of the final parts. However, in recent years, with the increase in the size of industrial 3D printers, medium-sized batches can be produced with ease using 3D printing. 

4. Customization

3D printing allows the customization of parts based on the type of aircraft. Engineers can also opt for part consolidation and topology optimization of aerospace components.

Benefits of 3D Printing in Aerospace Manufacturing

Right from manufacturing jigs and fixtures, surrogates, mounting brackets, and high-detail visual prototypes, 3D printing is used extensively in aerospace manufacturing processes. Here are some benefits offered by 3D printing:

1. Design freedom

In the aerospace industry, engineers constantly try to use complex geometries and engineering materials that can boost the performance of the application. 3D printing allows them to manufacture complex parts that are extremely light in weight and highly stable. This offers a level of design freedom that can help them focus on optimization and not the manufacturing process.

2. Consolidation

3D printing allows engineers to consolidate multiple parts into one component while boosting efficiency. This reduces the overall weight and reduces costs.

3. Finishing

In the aerospace industry, the finishing of individual parts is highly critical. 3D printing has the capability to offer parts with a very high surface finish. While some 3D printing technologies like Material Jetting can produce a smooth finish with minor post-production, other technologies can be used with CNC machines to achieve an optimum finish.

Many providers offer 3D Additive Manufacturing Defence and Aerospace services and Additive Hybrids to produce and finish the part in a single machine. For example, EOS 3D Printing is used extensively by aerospace engineers. 

4. Orientation of parts

For load-bearing parts, it is important to pay attention to the orientation of parts in the build platform. Some materials have anisotropic mechanical properties making them weaker in some directions. 3D printing allows engineers to focus on this during the design process.

Final Words

For over 50 years, Phillips has been associated with the US Department of Defense, offering manufacturing technology products and expertise. We are the sole and exclusive distributor of EOS additive manufacturing services, technology, and equipment to the United States Federal Government. 

At Phillips, we offer EOS additive manufacturing equipment and a range of solutions and services to the aerospace industry. With high levels of precision and cost-efficiency, 3D printing is evolving into an essential alternative manufacturing method for the aerospace industry.

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