Accessibility Links

Will 3D printing help Aerospace reach for the skies?

Posted by: Anders Elite
3D printing is set to revolutionise the way we live. From recent experiments when living eye tissue was created using a 3D printer for toxicology and pharmaceutical tests, to the 'printing' of chocolate confectionary, the boundary of possibilities for 3D printing seem limited only by our imagination. 
 
Recently it has been announced that 3D printed parts have flown for the first time in the UK on board an RAF Tornado jet. 
We take a look at the phenomenon that is 3D printing and ask whether it really will change the technological landscape in the aerospace industry?
 
What is 3D printing?
3D printing technology started emerging in the 1980s, however, it was not until the early 2010s that the printers became more widely available. 
3D printers use a variety of materials such as metal, plastic, nylon, resins, ceramics, wood, wax and some food-based ingredients to place horizontal cross-sections, micro-layer upon micro-layer, one on top of the other to create a complex 3D object. 
 
In contrast to traditional production processes which are termed 'subtractive manufacturing' and during which materials are removed to create an object, 3D printing is an 'additive manufacturing' process. This means that to create an entity materials are added not taken away. This reduces not only manufacturing time but also saves on raw materials therefore lowering costs. 
 
There are two types of 3D printing:
FDM (fused deposition modelling) this involves melting a material and extruding it in ultra-thin layers to build an object from the bottom up.
 
SLS (selective laser sintering) powdered material such as titanium or nylon is hardened or sintered layer by layer until an object is created.
 
The 'third Industrial revolution'
Far from being science fiction, 3D printing is now becoming more commonplace, with domestic printers available for individuals whilst some supermarkets and electronics stores are offering a printing service on the high street. 
In fact, the UK Government has already raised concerns over the availability of 3D printers for nefarious purposes and has banned handguns produced by 3D printing - acting quickly to update the 1968 Firearms Act making it illegal to own or produce even the components for a 3D gun.
 
3D implications for aerospace
News that the RAF has flown Tornado jets fitted with metal protective cockpit radio covers and power take-off shaft guards moves the aerospace industry into a whole different design and development stratosphere. Scientists and engineers at British company, BAE Systems, have been working in conjunction with their counterparts from the RAF to develop replacement Tornado parts which, they estimate, could cost as little as £100 each. This could result in a significant cost saving for the RAF's service and maintenance budget of at least £1.2 million over four years which is good news in the light of proposed cuts to the military's budget.
 
The implications of the easy availability of 3D printed spare parts for, for now at least, Tornado jets, and other military equipment are enormous. Experts at the Ministry of Defence are excited by the possibility of troops being able to manufacture spare parts on the ground when involved in campaigns around the world. Not being limited by geographical production locations would be of enormous benefit and would negate the need for traditional logistical support. 
 
The technology is not limited to the military, commercial and passenger carriers are also looking into 3D printing equipment to produce aircraft engine parts. They see the benefits as twofold. Firstly, the process is extremely quick in comparison to traditional engineering, secondly, the parts created by 3D printing are considerably lighter than conventional parts, which will reduce the overall weight of the aircraft and therefore save on fuel. 
 
Last year, US space agency NASA announced that they are looking into the possibility of sending a 3D printer into space to assist astronauts manufacture tools and spare parts in zero gravity as and when they need them. This could help reduce the cost of future missions. 
 
There's no doubt that scientists, engineers and designers are excited by the possibilities that 3D printing offers them, in a wide variety of applications. 
It only remains to be seen whether 3D printing can meet the challenge facing the aerospace industry in the future.
3D printing is set to revolutionise the way we live. From recent experiments when living eye tissue was created using a 3D printer for toxicology and pharmaceutical tests, to the 'printing' of chocolate confectionary, the boundary of possibilities for 3D printing seem limited only by our imagination. 
 
Recently it has been announced that 3D printed parts have flown for the first time in the UK on board an RAF Tornado jet. 
We take a look at the phenomenon that is 3D printing and ask whether it really will change the technological landscape in the aerospace industry?
 
What is 3D printing?
3D printing technology started emerging in the 1980s, however, it was not until the early 2010s that the printers became more widely available. 
3D printers use a variety of materials such as metal, plastic, nylon, resins, ceramics, wood, wax and some food-based ingredients to place horizontal cross-sections, micro-layer upon micro-layer, one on top of the other to create a complex 3D object. 
 
In contrast to traditional production processes which are termed 'subtractive manufacturing' and during which materials are removed to create an object, 3D printing is an 'additive manufacturing' process. This means that to create an entity materials are added not taken away. This reduces not only manufacturing time but also saves on raw materials therefore lowering costs. 
 
There are two types of 3D printing:
FDM (fused deposition modelling) this involves melting a material and extruding it in ultra-thin layers to build an object from the bottom up.
 
SLS (selective laser sintering) powdered material such as titanium or nylon is hardened or sintered layer by layer until an object is created.
 
The 'third Industrial revolution'
Far from being science fiction, 3D printing is now becoming more commonplace, with domestic printers available for individuals whilst some supermarkets and electronics stores are offering a printing service on the high street. 
In fact, the UK Government has already raised concerns over the availability of 3D printers for nefarious purposes and has banned handguns produced by 3D printing - acting quickly to update the 1968 Firearms Act making it illegal to own or produce even the components for a 3D gun.
 
3D implications for aerospace
News that the RAF has flown Tornado jets fitted with metal protective cockpit radio covers and power take-off shaft guards moves the aerospace industry into a whole different design and development stratosphere. Scientists and engineers at British company, BAE Systems, have been working in conjunction with their counterparts from the RAF to develop replacement Tornado parts which, they estimate, could cost as little as £100 each. This could result in a significant cost saving for the RAF's service and maintenance budget of at least £1.2 million over four years which is good news in the light of proposed cuts to the military's budget.
 
The implications of the easy availability of 3D printed spare parts for, for now at least, Tornado jets, and other military equipment are enormous. Experts at the Ministry of Defence are excited by the possibility of troops being able to manufacture spare parts on the ground when involved in campaigns around the world. Not being limited by geographical production locations would be of enormous benefit and would negate the need for traditional logistical support. 
 
The technology is not limited to the military, commercial and passenger carriers are also looking into 3D printing equipment to produce aircraft engine parts. They see the benefits as twofold. Firstly, the process is extremely quick in comparison to traditional engineering, secondly, the parts created by 3D printing are considerably lighter than conventional parts, which will reduce the overall weight of the aircraft and therefore save on fuel. 
 
Last year, US space agency NASA announced that they are looking into the possibility of sending a 3D printer into space to assist astronauts manufacture tools and spare parts in zero gravity as and when they need them. This could help reduce the cost of future missions. 
 
There's no doubt that scientists, engineers and designers are excited by the possibilities that 3D printing offers them, in a wide variety of applications. 
It only remains to be seen whether 3D printing can meet the challenge facing the aerospace industry in the future.
3D printing is set to revolutionise the way we live. From recent experiments when living eye tissue was created using a 3D printer for toxicology and pharmaceutical tests, to the 'printing' of chocolate confectionary, the boundary of possibilities for 3D printing seem limited only by our imagination. 
 
Recently it has been announced that 3D printed parts have flown for the first time in the UK on board an RAF Tornado jet. 

We take a look at the phenomenon that is 3D printing and ask whether it really will change the technological landscape in the aerospace industry?
 
What is 3D printing?
3D printing technology started emerging in the 1980s, however, it was not until the early 2010s the printers became more widely available. 

3D printers use a wide variety of raw materials to form horizontal cross-sections, micro-layer upon micro-layer to create a complex 3D object. 
 
In contrast to traditional production processes which are termed 'subtractive manufacturing' during which materials are removed to create an object, 3D printing is an 'additive manufacturing' process, meaning that to create an entity materials are added not taken away. This reduces not only manufacturing time but also saves on raw materials therefore lowering costs. 
 
The two types of 3D printing
FDM (fused deposition modelling) involves the melting of a material and extruding it in ultra-thin layers to build an object from the bottom up.
 
SLS (selective laser sintering) powdered material such as titanium or nylon is hardened or sintered layer by layer until an object is created.
 
The 'third Industrial revolution'
Far from being science fiction, 3D printing is now becoming more commonplace with domestic printers available for individuals and some supermarkets and electronics stores offering 3D printing services on the high street. 

In fact, the UK Government has already raised concerns over the availability of 3D printers for nefarious purposes and has banned handguns produced by 3D printing - acting quickly to update the 1968 Firearms Act making it illegal to own or produce the components for a 3D gun.
 
3D implications for aerospace
News that the RAF has flown Tornado jets fitted with metal protective cockpit radio covers and power take-off shaft guards moves the aerospace industry into a whole different design and development stratosphere. Scientists and engineers at British company, BAE Systems, have been working in conjunction with their counterparts from the RAF to develop replacement Tornado parts which, they estimate, could cost as little as £100 each. This could result in a significant cost saving for the RAF's service and maintenance budget of at least £1.2 million over four years which is good news in the light of proposed cuts to the military's budget.
 
The implications of the easy availability of 3D printed spare parts for, for now at least, Tornado jets, and other military equipment are enormous. Experts at the Ministry of Defence are excited by the possibility of troops being able to manufacture spare parts on the ground when involved in campaigns around the world. Not being limited by geographical production locations would be of enormous benefit and would negate the need for traditional logistical support. 
 
The technology is not just limited to the military, commercial and passenger carriers are also looking into 3D printing equipment to produce aircraft engine parts. They see the benefits as twofold. Firstly, the process is extremely quick in comparison to traditional engineering, secondly, the parts created by 3D printing are considerably lighter than conventional parts, which will reduce the overall weight of the aircraft and therefore save on fuel. 
 
Last year, US space agency NASA announced that they are looking into the possibility of sending a 3D printer into space to assist astronauts manufacture tools and spare parts in zero gravity as and when they need them. This could help reduce the cost of future missions. 
 
There's no doubt that scientists, engineers and designers are excited by the possibilities that 3D printing offers them, in a wide variety of applications. 

It only remains to be seen whether 3D printing can meet the challenge facing the aerospace industry in the future.
 
Tagged In: Aerospace
Add new comment
*
*
*
Anders spotlight