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How metal 3D printing factors into aerospace design

The aerospace industry, characterized by its relentless pursuit of innovation and efficiency, has embraced 3D metal printing as a transformative technology.

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How metal 3D printing factors into aerospace design

The aerospace industry, characterized by its relentless pursuit of innovation and efficiency, has embraced 3D metal printing as a transformative technology. This article delves into the technical aspects of how 3D metal printing is revolutionizing aerospace design.

Lightweight Structures and Fuel Efficiency

One of the biggest concerns in aeronautic design is weight. Every gram counts when calculating fuel consumption, range, and payload capacity. 3D metal printing, with its ability to produce intricate geometries, offers a solution to this challenge. By optimizing the design of components, such as using lattice structures, engineers can achieve significant weight reductions without compromising strength. This not only translates to reduced fuel consumption but also extends the operational range of aircraft.

Customization and Unique Component Production

Aircraft engineering often demands components that are tailored for specific applications. Traditional manufacturing methods can be restrictive, both in terms of design freedom and economic viability for low-volume production. 3D metal printing, however, excels in this domain. It allows for the rapid prototyping and production of bespoke parts, ensuring that the unique requirements of aerospace applications are met with precision.

Waste Minimization and Cost Efficiency

Traditional subtractive manufacturing methods, such as milling, generate significant waste. According to the Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) Program, aerospace manufacturing can manage as much as 73.7 million pounds of waste in a single year. Waste streams are complex and originate from many different sources. However, estimations suggest that 30—50% of materials in aircraft production are scrapped as a direct result of how they are manufactured.

In contrast, 3D metal printing is an additive process, building components layer by layer, using only the material necessary. This reduces waste and translates to cost savings, especially when using expensive aerospace-grade alloys. It also opens avenues for material recycling. Powders can be recovered from the bed and reused accordingly. Experts highlight the part and production flexibility of AM as major waste reduction aspects of the technology. Yet the benefits are truly myriad. 3D printers require less ancillary equipment which translates to tangible energy savings. This also reduces the geographical burden of needing to transport parts from complex facilities further afield. It can also reduce inventory waste by its inherent made-to-order approach.

Enhanced Performance through Advanced Materials

The aerospace sector demands materials that can withstand extreme conditions, from high temperatures to corrosive environments. 3D metal printing can be utilized to manufacture parts from a range of metal alloys, including titanium, aluminum, stainless steel, and cobalt-chromium, as well as superalloys which can be critical in jet engine components. These materials, known for their high strength-to-weight ratios and resistance to corrosion, are ideal for aerospace applications.  

Software Integration and Component Optimization

Modern aircraft design is increasingly turning to computational tools for in-depth simulation and analysis. One of the most transformative advancements in this realm is 3D metal printing. This technology not only integrates seamlessly with computational tools but also offers unique advantages specific to the 3D printing process. For instance, engineers can employ topology optimization, a technique that refines the material layout within a given design space, ensuring the component is as lightweight as possible while retaining its strength and functionality. Furthermore, 3D printing allows for the consolidation of multiple smaller components into a single, more efficient part. A notable example of this is the GE leap nozzle, where several parts were merged into one intricately designed component, resulting in significant weight and cost savings. Through such iterative design and simulation, aircraft components can be meticulously optimized for strength, durability, and efficiency.

Challenges and the Path Forward

While 3D metal printing offers numerous advantages, challenges remain. Certification and qualification of printed components are paramount in the aerospace industry, given the critical nature of many parts. Efforts are ongoing to standardize testing and validation procedures, ensuring that printed components meet the rigorous standards of aerospace applications.
At JEOL, we recognize the transformative potential of 3D metal printing in aerospace design. We are committed to pushing the boundaries of this technology, ensuring that the aerospace industry has the tools it needs to soar to new heights.

Our JAM-5200EBM is a cutting-edge electron beam powder bed fusion process used for metal additive manufacturing (AM) machine.

1. Efficiency and Clean Production: The JAM-5200EBM is designed to produce parts efficiently and cleanly, which is crucial for aerospace applications where precision and cleanliness are paramount.
2. Lightweight Components: The machine specializes in creating lighter manufactured parts by enabling engineers to design and 3D print parts that would be impossible to manufacture with traditional manufacturing methods. Given the aerospace industry's emphasis on weight reduction for fuel efficiency and performance, this capability is highly valuable.

Increased Output and Reduced Development Time: The JAM-5200EBM has a rapid and accurate electron beam that enables manufacturers to produce parts rapidly. Faster production times lead to shorter design cycles, which reduces the time needed for manufacturers to develop parts. Explore the vast possibilities of 3D metal printing in aerospace with the JAM-5200EBM.

References and further reading:

• https://www.epa.gov/toxics-release-inventory-tri-program/aerospace-manufacturing-sector-pollution-prevention-p2
• https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0959652614013225
• https://commons.erau.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2469&context=publication

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Adam King
Adam King
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