If you are interested in 3D printing or let’s use the more professional term “Additive Manufacturing” you find examples mainly in two areas of business.
(if we leave the consumer driven avatar printout thing at a side)
These areas are Aerospace&Defense and Automotive.
In my first blog I wrote about 3D printing [ Is 3D printing changing Materials Management?].
I dropped a few words about the different technologies and processes of 3D Printing.
As time goes by, the substrates / materials which are being used for printing have advanced and the technology itself as well.
In this blog I would like to focus on the possible use cases and current products which are already being used commercially.
A large portion of my last blog [3D Printing. Evolving Business] was about jet engine parts.
So, I will share some pictures of theses parts .
General Electric as one of the largest jet engine manufacturers is using 3D printed parts in their new LEAP jet engine.
Below you see a picture of a fuel nozzle. Every jet engine has 10-20 fuel nozzles.
Even parts exposed to high pressures can be manufactured with additive manufacturing using cobalt-chromium powder.
like the housing of the T25 sensor which is located in the inlet to the high pressure compressor.
Airbus was using bionic engineering to let a new dividing wall in an Airbus A320 “grow”
The component was created with custom algorithms that generated a design that mimics
cellular structure and bone growth and then produced using 3D printing techniques. This was resulting in a 25kg weight reduction of the part at equal strength.
Ready manufactured dividing wall showcased at Autodesk University.
And to go even a bit higher in altitude. NASA has reveiled their new methane turbopump which feeds rocket engines.
Currently this turbopump is not used in rocket engines, but who knows maybe this is a predecessor for pumps used in rockets on journeys to Mars.
Above you see several examples of using additive manufacturing. But why is aviation leading edge in this technology?
Because this industry has some characteristics which fits ideal to that new way of manufacturing.
These characteristics are low volume (compared to automotive), depending on lightweight, depending on low operating costs of their finished product
Additive Manufacturing has two mayor constraints. It is relatively expensive and relatively slow in production.
But these two constraints are not valid for the aviation industry.
Long production time: the volume of items which are needed for the finished product is much less than in automotive industry. Furthermore it is easy to increase production capacity by adding more machines.
Manual labor is not scalable that way, because the workers need to be highly skilled.
Expensive: valid argument, but developing and manufacturing tools or special molds for low volume items is not cheap either.
Furthmore by going that way you are loosing the flexibility of doing different parts with the same tool.
This puts a new perspective on high costs when you put the flexibility into the equation.
But what are the advantages the aviation industry can take from additional manufacturing?
As it is important for airplanes to be light and therefore fuel efficient the industry is eager to have lighter components at equal strength.
Additive manufacturing can produce components which could not be fabricated applying conventional manufacturing methods like milling or injection molding.
As in the example above Airbus is using Autodesks Generative Design solutions to create a bone like structure and print it out direktly.
The combination of using generative design and the flexibilty of additive manufacturing enables the industry to make stronger and lighter components.
The automotive industry has slightly different characteritics which are leading to different approaches.
First and foremost the volumes in the automotive industry are much higher. In that scale injection molding and casting makes sense.
Perfect example for high volume and low cost.
But there are areas of “lower” volume in the automotive industry where it may make sense to think about additive manufacturing.
For example high class models of a mass manufacturer like the S-Class of Mercedes Benz. The manufacturer would be able to e.g. personalize the interior design of a car.
( buzzword: lot size 1 )
Or aftermarket components which rarely break, like intake manifolds.
These items have to be manufactured in larger batches to make use of economies of scales using injection molding.
This leads to higher costs due to capital tie and consumes storage space.
There is an extreme example in the automotive industry which already made it`s way into the mass media.
It is the nearly complete build of a car made from printed parts. Suspension and e-engine parts are taken from Renaults Twizy.
This is clear no mass product for the next decade, but it shows way to the future and made us curious what to come next.
See how a 3D printed car is really made with Local Motors’ 3D Printing 101
Serial Production Vehicles: Case Studies
How Advanced Materials are Driving Additive Manufacturing in the Automotive Industry
Local Motors -printed car-
The FAA Cleared The First 3D Printed Part To Fly In A Commercial Jet Engine From GE
GE Aviation gets FAA Certification for First 3D Printed Jet Engine Part
3D Printed Aircraft Parts and Engines Could Lighten Aircrafts by 50%
NASA unveils 3D printed methane turbopump