May 23, 2017 | By Julia

In what marks a momentous occasion for East Asian 3D printing, the first Chinese-built commercial airliner with 3D printed parts took its maiden flight on May 5, 2017. The C919 was developed by the Commercial Aircraft Corporation of China Ltd (COMAC), and features 3D printed metals such as titanium alloys.

Truly a national effort, the C919 was designed and assembled in Shanghai by COMAC, while various parts were manufactured throughout China: the front parts and wings were manufactured in Chengdu and Xi’an, while the main body was produced in Nanchang.

The C919 is part of “Made in China 2025,” a nation-wide initiative that will see China aim to radically transform its traditional manufacturing economy. With the commercial airliner’s maiden flight a success, China has now sent a serious signal that it is ready to successfully carry out its manufacturing overhaul. “Made in China 2025” has zeroed in on 10 different sectors across the country, including 3D printing and the development of aerospace equipment.

As seen with the C919, the Chinese government has officially recognized 3D printing as a key component in growing China’s manufacturing economy. The revolutionary commercial airliner features 28 cabin door parts and two fan inlet structural parts, all made of 3D printed titanium. While 60% of the C919’s parts were manufactured in China, the remaining components were produced by foreign suppliers such as CFM International, Liebher-Aerospace, FACC and Honeywell.

Following the C919’s success, the Chinese government will be upping the stakes with an ambitious plan to produce 90% of all commercial aircrafts, as well as exclusively install Chinese-made jet engines, by 2025. This aggressive development of China’s aviation sector is expected to lead to an increased demand for 3D printing technology and metal powders, thereby giving these interlinked manufacturing sectors a serious boost as well.

“We will see more use cases on the adoption of 3D printing technologies in the aerospace industry,” said Wendy Mok, Research Manager of the International Data Corporation’s Imaging, Print, and Document Solutions Research department.

Mok noted that recent major developments in this trend include General Electric’s (GE) acquisition of metal 3D printer manufacturers Concept Laser and Arcam, which have been successfully supplying 3D printers to aircraft parts manufacturers. Arcam has already begun supplying jet engine manufacturer Rolls Royce, while Norsk Titanium has produced the first FAA-approved 3D printed structural titanium components for a Boeing Dreamliner.

China is determined to be a leading player in this growth. “The success of C919’s maiden flight implies the use of 3D printed parts on airliners have been recognized by the aviation industry in China,” Mok stated. “The domestic demand for 3D printed parts will grow with expectations that the orders of 570 units of C919 delivered by COMAC in the future, coupled with an increase in localization rate.”

Moving forward, one of the large debates will revolve around the usage of imported vs. locally produced 3D printers. Due to their reliability and proven success rate in related industries, imported 3D printers have so far held a significant advantage over domestically made systems.

“Outsourcing 3D printing services will save the initial investment cost and enables the manufacturers to focus on product development,” Mok said. “Moreover, individual suppliers could provide services and parts according to their product portfolios. Such collaborations will help improve the overall product quality. This business model also provides 3D printer vendors a point of penetration,” she added.

Foreign companies have already shown increased interest in China’s airliner manufacturing market. A new China-based Boeing facility is currently under development, while Airbus has begun assembling its A320s in Tianjin. Consequently, the Chinese 3D printing industry is expected to continue growing, both in terms of hardware and materials.

With the maiden flight of the C919 successfully completed, these manufacturing developments are officially underway. To achieve the targets outlined under the “Made in China 2025” plan, the Chinese government has announced it will allocate more resources towards the transformation and development of high-end manufacturing sectors. In addition to the aerospace industry, railways and automotive industries are particularly expected to start accelerating. As Mok confirms, these activities will boost demand for advanced 3D printing technology and diversity of materials.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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Jay wrote at 5/24/2017 3:31:18 PM:

Sciaky's EBAM metal 3D printing process is being used to produce titanium parts for Airbus. Visit:

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