The term additive manufacturing encompasses a variety of processes designed to build up components layer by layer from powdered materials. Initially, this was used primarily for creating prototypes, but is now used more to build in-flight production components for aircrafts.
GE plans on using it to print fuel nozzles that are 25 percent lighter and five times more durable than the existing nozzles. Another example is Boeing. They have countless 3D-printed parts on their aircraft, both military and commercial.
One reason for doing this is the potential to reduce the cost and weight of aircraft structures. When using additive manufacturing to build structural components most of the focus has been on making titanium parts as a replacement for conventionally produced parts.
As additive manufacturing becomes more prominent in the aerospace industry a major milestone is on the horizon. Later this year the Flying Test Bed A380 aircraft from Airbus will take to the air with a Rolls-Royce Trent XWB-97 engine powering it. This engine will be equipped with the largest civil aero-engine component ever built using 3D-printing technologies. The component is an engine front bearing that contains 48 aerofoil-shaped can components that were created through additive manufacturing.
The aerospace industry continues to keep manufacturers on their toes in their quest to find new processes for building components. As additive manufacturing becomes more and more common there’s sure to be more milestones hit in the future.