How 3D Printing Is Changing Aviation Industry

Wouldn’t it be cool to build a jet from parts you produced in your hangar? 3D printing just might make that dream a reality.

3D printing technology has been around for nearly 30 years, with the first 3D printers developed in 1984. The technology has only improved. The printers use materials like plastic to print instead of ink, and they were originally adopted by manufacturers to efficiently create prototypes. Later, the medical community began printing pieces to repair organs. Scientists even “printed” a working, miniature kidney. 3D printing is becoming more affordable, too, and more 3D printers are becoming available to consumers for at-home use.

Opportunities for aviation

This has the potential of having a big impact on bizav. 3D printing is capable of creating large pieces needed for the manufacturing of aircraft, and the pieces meet the strict manufacturing requirements of aircraft parts. They also have advantages over traditionally manufactured pieces, including being lighter and stronger. One such piece created through 3D printing technology was a 3-meter wing span. The piece will be used in manufacturing a passenger plane in 2014 and enter commercial service in 2016.

GE is working to increase 3D printing speeds, and is hoping to use the technology to speed up the production rates for their LEAP fuel nozzles and jet engine components. The fuel nozzles created on a 3D printer are lighter and more efficient than their manufactured counterparts. These advances could lead to quicker turnaround time for finished corporate jets, and increase their safety and performance.

Future applications

Where is 3D printing technology headed? NASA is sending a 3D printer to the International Space Station. Over 30% of the ISS’ parts can be made by a 3D printer, which means astronauts will be able to manufacture tools and parts they need. They won’t have to wait for something to be launched from Earth.

The potential for inexpensive, reliable manufacturing with 3D printers is exciting. It will be interesting to see how larger manufacturers begin integrating 3D printed pieces into corporate jets and how that affects the industry. With quicker production times and stronger, more efficient pieces being produced, it definitely seems like a win for both manufacturers and buyers.

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