Jun 22, 2017 | By Tess

Since its very first edition in 1909, the Paris Air Show has continually showcased innovations in the aerospace industry, putting the newest planes and aircraft parts on display for the world to see. In recent years, 3D printing has been heralded as one of the most disruptive new technologies in the field, and it is no wonder why.

At this year’s Paris Air Show, German aerospace company Premium Aerotec took a look at the state of 3D printing in aerospace, addressing the opportunities and challenges of such technology in the field.

With the proliferation of additive manufacturing, Premium Aerotec has been open to the technology, and is exploring its suitability for aircraft manufacturing. In fact, the company is preparing to start series production of at least 40 parts for the Airbus A350 jet using 3D printing.

Still, it is finding that there are some challenges that need to be met with the technology’s adoption.

"It is nice to print, it's fancy, it's beautiful, but there are three conditions—it has to be cheaper, lighter, and faster," said Premium Aerotec CEO Thomas Ehm in an interview with Reuters at the event.

That is, the main draw of additive manufacturing in aerospace is that it can be leveraged to produce lightweight and complex parts using materials such as titanium. And while the technology is often lauded for its ability to cut back on costs and production time, Premium Aerotec says that, in reality, this can be hard to achieve.

Some of the main hurdles with 3D printing in aerospace at the moment are cutting back on costs, getting qualifications from regulators like the FAA, and turning “potential into profits.” According to Premium Aerotec, it has set up a dedicated team of people whose job it is to investigate and assess thousands of 3D printed parts through these three categories.

At present, the aerospace company is running 3D printers from Concept Laser and EOS at its facility in Varel, Germany, where it has invested between 15 and 20 million euros for AM.

In spite of the challenges that still face 3D printing in aerospace, the company also says it is planning to 3D print 50 titanium parts for the A350 jet (ten of which are already in serial production). It is also already 3D printing six components for the A400M military transporter’s refuelling system.

Thomas Ehm also pointed out that many of the costs associated with 3D printing are actually from pre and post processing. Only 30 percent of production costs are from the printing itself, he explains, which means that in order for the technology to become even more beneficial, the whole production cycle, from material production to post-processing, will need to become more efficient.

Of course, one of the biggest challenges to overcome will be part certification. (We wrote a whole article about the FAA’s attitudes towards 3D printing earlier this week). Basically, aerospace companies are running into difficulties in not only having physical printed parts certified, but also convincing regulators that 3D printing can offer consistency—printing the same shape and quality over and over again.

According to Ehm, Premium Aerotec is currently working on getting certification for its entire 3D printing process, which would mean that it could print more parts. Additionally, through a partnership with EOS and Daimler, Premium Aerotec is working on developing a system for serial additive manufacturing called NextGenAM. The aim is to produce a whole AM process that will allow for cheaper and more reliable printing.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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