3D printing has been finding innovative, ergonomic and cost-effective ways into the global market for about three decades now. Industrially, it has proven to be extremely effective in meeting customer requirements, rapid mass manufacturing, and unmatchable production costs. Moreover, it is environment-friendly in the sense that it minimizes the machinery waste produced by reusing the raw products.
One of the ways in which this ergonomic process has made its mark is in the aerospace industry; in the building and remaking of machinery that is designed for aviation.
Contemporary Applicability of 3D-Printed Aerospace Machinery
In July 2016, Alcoa Technology, the world’s largest light metal research center, expanded its facility and adopted a 3D printing technique to develop the company. The very same year, a group of Idaho students designed and handcrafted the state’s first 3D printed satellite called MakerSat-0 which made its space debut through NASA in the year that followed.
Following in the footsteps of Airbus, the leading multinational corporation for aeronautical products worldwide, the Emirates Airline produced 3D printed interior aircraft components as well. Emirates is the largest airline in the entire Middle-East and its 3D printed video monitor shrouds, aircraft cabin, air vent grills with EASA certification have been in use since October 2017, making the aircrafts exponentially lighter and aerodynamically efficient.
The Advantages of 3D Printing in Aerospace Components
Inevitably, an innovative and ergonomic technology like 3D printing has many things to offer to the aerodynamic industry, a few of which are enlisted below:
3D Printed Objects are Significantly Lighter in Weight
3D printed materials are generally about 30-55 % lighter than the ones made manufactured by the regular process. Rather than using dense metals, 3D printer gives us the opportunity to fast-print with lighter raw materials. Researchers at MIT used Graphene, a material that is more light-weighted than even air, and about ten times as stronger, as a raw material for 3D printing. The components built from graphene are thus extremely light in weight, porous if needed and much more durable.
One of the most crucial laws of aerodynamics is that the object taking flight needs to be significantly lighter or constructed in a manner that weight is minimized. This not only makes the flight smooth but also faster. So aeronautical engineers are always in search of lighter objects to construct aerospace equipment with, and with 3D printing the options are limitless.
Aiding the Astronauts
Suspended and weightless in space, exposed to space radiation and extremely far away from medical facilities for years on end, perhaps it is the astronauts who need all the help that they can possibly get. 3D printing can probably provide them with many of the tools that they would need in outer space.
Many doctors have expressed concern about the health and safety of the astronauts in the weightless, radiation-filled atmosphere of space, and have suggested that diagnostic equipment that allows the astronauts to assess and evaluate their physical conditions be created. And consequently, NASA predicts that 3D printing will allow them to design tools that are able to handle liquids like blood in the microgravity of a space shuttle.
Additionally, in case of space-ship repairs, 3D printers will also be useful for the manufacturing of spare parts as opposed to carrying a whole package of heavy space-ship equipment on board.
3D Printing is Budget-friendly
For many companies in the aerodynamics business, 3D printing has become a more cost-effective manufacturing process. The Moog Aircraft Group, a huge supply for many aerospace companies, said that their budget analysis revealed switching to 3D printing technology has reduced their costs by 10 %.
One of the manufacturers for Airbus is a French aerospace company called Latecoere. In their evaluation of production costs, they revealed that 3D printing cut their tooling costs by 40%. While the initial costs are extremely high, 3D printers are increasingly being invested in because they prove to be economical, material-saving and eco-friendly in the longer run.