Nov 26, 2015 | By Alec

Over the past few years, the military branches of various nations have been slowly adopting metal 3D printing technology as a cost-effective solution to quickly manufacture a wide range of parts. While the Chinese and Americans have been doing this for some time already, we recently learned that the South Korean Ministry of Defense also approved the use of 3D printing as a time and cost saving manufacturing tool. While only a few examples of parts were given at the time, news reports are now claiming that the South Korean Air Force has even begun 3D printing engine components for fighter jets.

This interesting report just surfaced at major South Korean news agency Yonhap. Previously, we already knew that parts such as aircraft speaker covers and a few parts for training aircraft were 3D printed to reduce costs drastically and to reduce the reliance on foreign imports. Reportedly the Ministry saved up to 3 million Won ($2600 USD) on training aircraft parts already with the help of 3D printing.

However, this new report suggests that the South Korean Ministry of Defense has enough faith in 3D printed parts to even make crucial parts on fighter jets. So far, fourteen of the F-15k fighter jets in their air force have already been repaired with 3D printed engine parts – specifically high-pressure turbine shrouds. Again, savings have been massive – with the original part costing 40 million won (US$34,900) per unit and taking about 60 days to import from foreign manufacturers, these 3D printed parts were 3 million Won ($2600 USD) cheaper and manufacturing time was reduced to just twenty days.

What’s more, the sources from the Air Force that shared this information say that 3D printing has been on the military agenda for quite some time. These turbine parts for the F-15k fighter jet engines have been under development for about two years, ever since abrasions were seen on the original components in 2012.

These 3D printed turbine parts have been developed and manufactured in collaboration with South Korean metal 3D printing specialists from Insstek, and with help from US engine manufacturer GE Aviation. The latter company provided safety checks and fully approved of the quality of these 3D printed components, the Air Force sources say.

This update on the South Korean military application of 3D printing seems to be typical in a trend for fast-paced innovation of cost saving technologies, so it will be very intriguing to see what else high quality metal 3D printing can do. The South Korean Air Force, at least, is completely convinced. They are already working on product samples for three other airplane parts, as well as 13 ground-based equipment parts, all made with 3D printing. If taken into production, the Air Force estimates that they can quickly reduce their maintenance costs by a further 130 million won each year (approximately $113,000 USD).



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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