Adecade ago, the thought of creating an intri- cately shaped aerostructure from thousands of individual layers of material belonged in the realm of science fiction.
Today, 3-D printing or additive manufacturing (AM)
is rapidly passing from the “gee-whiz” stage to an accepted, if still novel, aspect of the aerospace industry.
Te benefts of AM are well known: the ability to
construct highly complex components in a single piece,
complete with internal cavities or ftments, for example,
in one operation.
It also enables the creation of structures in a far more
economical fashion than the traditional “subtractive”
method, in which components are milled from a solid
billet of metal, where up to 90% of the original material
ends up as shavings. Tose shavings are retrieved and
re-smelted, but the process remains relatively wasteful in
terms of time and energy expended.
Some of the most substantial components being
made from AM are to be found in China. COMAC’s
ARJ21 regional jet, which is due to enter airline service
this spring, contains a three-meter AM titanium spar.
UK-based frst-tier supplier GKN Aerospace is
among the companies seeking to bring AM into everyday use in aircraft manufacturing. Its initial target is
to produce quality procedures that it can use to obtain
aerospace qualifcation for AM-produced, but conventionally designed, components. Tis process is well
underway and the company expects the quantity of AM
parts being manufactured to increase signifcantly over
the next two to three years.
In parallel, the company is developing its understanding of the design freedom aforded by AM.
Tat freedom brings its own challenges. Among
is revolutionizing aircraft
the way composites did.
BY ALAN DRON