Oct 23, 2017 | By Benedict

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration is reviewing a draft version of its Additive Manufacturing Strategic Roadmap. The document explains how the FAA can regulate and certify 3D printed aircraft parts over the next seven to eight years.

Additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry is taking off in a big way, but we haven’t yet seen a significant number of 3D printed critical parts for aircraft.

This is largely because of regulation: with additive manufacturing a relatively new technology and aircraft manufacturers only scratching the surface of what it can do, regulatory bodies like the FAA are only just starting to look at whether 3D printed engine parts and other components are fit for flight.

That’s not to say that there hasn’t been progress. A very small number of companies have already had 3D printed structural parts approved for use by the FAA.

GE, most famously, has made itself a key name in additive manufacturing with the creation of a 3D printed fuel nozzle used in the GE9X jet engine. Norsk Titanium followed suit in 2017 when it received FAA approval on a 3D printed titanium part for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner.

Excitingly, the number of critical 3D printed aircraft parts could be on the rise. That’s because the FAA is reviewing a draft version of an Additive Manufacturing Strategic Roadmap, a document that examines how the regulatory body can regulate and certify both the manufacturing and maintenance of 3D printed aircraft parts.

The document reportedly also deals with how additive education and training can be improved in the aerospace sector.

The FAA's Strategic Roadmap could lead to more FAA-approved 3D printed parts like GE's fuel nozzle

According to Michael Gorelik, the FAA’s chief scientific and technical adviser for fatigue and damage tolerance, the mere possibility of more comprehensive additive manufacturing guidelines marks a huge step for the industry.

“Three to four years ago, none of my peers believed we would see additive manufacturing of safety-critical parts,” he said. “We don’t have them yet, but based on the leading indicators I see it’s coming and it’s coming fairly fast.”

Gorelik thinks there are several ways the FAA could proceed following the dissemination of the Additive Manufacturing Strategic Roadmap. One very important step, however, will be classifying the multitude of different additive manufacturing processes available to manufacturers.

“One could try to group them by source of raw material, for example powder versus wire, and by the source of energy used to melt the material, laser versus electron beam versus plasma arc,” Gorelik said. “This variety of processes is great from the technology and business standpoint because it gives industry a great deal of flexibility.”

These Norsk Titanium 3D printed structural components were approved by the FAA before the Roadmap was drafted

That variety will also present challenges to the FAA, as new and innovative fabrication processes and materials are introduced at a rapid rate.

One way in which the FAA plans to tackle the wide and varied web of 3D printing is by working with other organizations. NASA, the U.S. Air Force, the U.S. Army, and the Aerospace Industries Association’s Additive Manufacturing Working Group have all been given copies of the Additive Manufacturing Strategic Roadmap in the hope that they may contribute valuable expertise to the cause.

“This is a huge technical problem scope,” Gorelik added. “It would be impractical for any single entity to try to address it single handedly. In my mind, collaboration is the key to ensure the safe introduction of this exciting new technology in commercial as well as military aerospace.”

The introduction of the Additive Manufacturing Strategic Roadmap could answer the questions we asked earlier this year about the FAA’s attitudes towards 3D printing.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Application

 

 

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