3D Printing in Aerospace: What the Future Holds
Growth within the aerospace industry is intrinsically tied to the development of manufacturing and design tools, and that’s why it is no surprise that 3D printing growth has been driven largely by aerospace demands. Looking towards the future of 3D printing and related additive manufacturing processes can help subcontractors adapt as demand grows steadily for the newest and most exciting printing trends. Understanding what the aerospace industry will need in the next 5 to 10 years in terms of 3D printing will give you an edge over the competition as a 3D printing service provider.
A History of 3D Printing Prototyping
Rapid prototyping has been the primary use of 3D printing within the aerospace industry in the past, and this usage will only continue to grow in the future. While even the first 3D printing techniques were still much faster than alternatives like machining and sheet-metal forming, today’s rapid 3D printing prototyping can save up to 95 percent on lead times. When it comes to completing a project in time in the aerospace industry, that kind of reduction in prototyping delays with 3D printing can make the difference between achieving a goal or having to start over entirely. 3D printing subcontractors who focus solely on prototyping services for the aerospace industry can expect steady growth in demand, as long as they stay updated with the latest equipment.
3D Printing Makes Tooling More Affordable to Produce
While 3D printing itself is considered a toolless production method, it’s also widely used in the aerospace manufacturing industry for speeding up the creation of new tooling. Modeling a mold or tooling part with 3D printing creates a perfect destructible original for casting or machining solid metal parts. Some European companies have reduced their tooling production costs by 40 percent just by involving more 3D printing in the prototyping and casting process.
This kind of additive 3D printing can also turn out a modified tooling part much faster when you suddenly discover a need to change a part in the middle of a manufacturing cycle. The usage of 3D printing in the tooling process will continue to grow steadily over the next few years, making it a service worth expanding into as a subcontractor.
Safety Testing and Guidelines for New 3D Printed Parts
Aerospace manufacturing is one of the most highly regulated industries across the world, and it’s taken a few years for the various safety and certification assemblies to run their own tests and develop guidelines for the use of parts made with 3D printing. This should trigger serious growth in the 3D printing field for high durability polymers, resins, and metal 3D printing materials since it will finally be possible to print entire components rather than just prototypes and tooling molds used to produce the finished parts. The Federal Aviation Administration of the United States has only recently announced their plan for testing and drafting guidelines for 3D printing parts, so these kinds of new regulations will shape the 3D printing demand in the aerospace world over the next few years.
Titanium 3D Printing for Extreme Strength and Durability
Metal 3D printing is not exactly new, but it has been limited in the past to lighter and slightly less strong metals like aluminum. BOEING has been a leading user of 3D printing parts over the last decade, so it’s not surprising that they’ve driven development in a new titanium 3D printing technology. Titanium is the strongest metal yet available for printing in this way, so this breakthrough will unleash a whole new set of options for directly manufacturing larger and more important aerospace parts with 3D printing.
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