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3D Printing: The New Age Technology

Steven Webb,Vice Pr

Issue 54

Defence Turkey: How do you evaluate the development of 3D printing technology in global defence industry? 

As the defence industry is looking to be more and more innovative in order to offer better technologies to the forces at a lesser cost, additive manufacturing technology could be an enabling technology. 3D-printing  could be the perfect opportunity to meet the current and future requirements as it offers the opportunity to manufacture cheaper but more sophisticated products. As a result, the defence industry is the perfect match to use this technology. At the moment, the development of 3D printing in defence is going slowly but surely. In manned aircraft some parts (not yet entire equipment) have been implemented in fighters (In the USA, the UK, China...). This could also be for example very useful for older generation jets for which it is hard to justify maintaining a fully manufacturing line for just few airplanes as it is very expensive. In this context, 3D-printing could bring much more efficient. UAV is a great area for 3D printing as well. UAVs are in development and a growing trend, 3D-printing is key to support the development and the testing thanks to fast prototyping but also it is an efficient alternative solution to develop light, efficient and cheap UAVs. 

3D printing is not only a disruptive technology, it will also disrupt the whole value chain and the processes, from development of products (allow cheaper development) to manufacturing (faster and quicker to market) to support (bringing parts quicker and closer to the theatre of operation) in a cheaper fashion (plus you do not have to own a large stocks of spares). This then allows to be proactive but also much more reactive and to make cost savings while increasing the level of technology. This is exactly what the industry and the forces are pursuing. 

Defence Turkey: In which fields is 3D Printing Technology expected to be developed in next decades, particularly in Defence and Aerospace Industry? 

3D printing is an enabling technology in Aerospace and Defence potentially in every single area: land, sea and air. However, I believe, air platforms and systems are potentially the areas with the most potential as it requires complex designs and lighter systems to be fuel efficient. This cannot be achieved currently with the traditional manufacturing methods. 

Defence Turkey: Which countries are the pioneer in this field? What are the activities and studies of these countries? 

3D printing was born in the United States of America in 1984 thanks to Charles Hull. The USA is clearly the pioneer in this industry. However many more countries have been investing large amount money in 3D printing. Singapore, for example, has reportedly recently invested $500 million in a 3D printing programme. China has also invested a lot in 3D printing. Even in Europe, countries tend to invest massively in 3D printing as this is considered to be the breakthrough technology of this century. It could be the start of a second industrial revolution. In a nutshell, the USA is leading the 3D printing technology area followed by Western Europe, China and APAC. 

Defence Turkey: Could you please inform us about Additive Manufacturing Technology in Commercial and Military Aviation Industry? 

In military aviation, the RAF incorporated 3D printed parts (from BAE Systems) on the Tornado jet and successfully completed a test flight earlier this year. In China, additive manufactured parts were incorporated in the J15 fighter jet. Many more jets must certainly have incorporated at least for flight test additive manufacturing parts (Eurofighter, F-35...). 

On the commercial aviation side, Boeing has incorporated some 3D printed parts for non structural (non critical) components (air ducts) on the 787. Airbus is incorporated in the A350XWB development fleet of aircraft 3d printed parts (plastic and metal brackets). Airbus is also working toward offering spare parts to produce cost effective out of production aircraft spares (A300-A310). Earlier this year a small plastic crew seat panel flew on an Airbus A310 from Air Transat. 

Basically, the evolution will certainly be incremental in this area as first non flight critical components will be incorporated in aircraft (military and commercial) then structural components will certainly be produced out of 3D printers and implemented in series aircraft. It might take a little longer for passenger aircraft because of certification processes. 

Another area to watch in aviation is UAVs, as this is a perfect area to incorporate additive manufacturing. Small UAV airframe was already made entirely from additive manufactured parts. 

Defence Turkey: What advantages does the 3D Technology provide for manufacturing, cost-effective solutions and new design opportunities in Aviation and Engine Industry? 

3D printing or additive manufacturing technology will create a whole new level of advantages impossible to achieve until now. 

Better raw material utilisation: As it goes directly from design thru CAD to building the parts, company will be able to use raw material more efficiently thus avoiding waste thanks to additive manufacturing technology. As raw material is saved thanks to 3D printing, the firm using 3D printing will be able to make substantial cost savings, using and thus buying fewer raw materials. This is particularly true in aerospace and defence, an industry that uses a lot of advanced materials such as composite materials (CFRP...), titanium and so on. As aerospace and defence use high tech thus expensive material in a large scale, using fewer of these, the industry will be able to cut the cost tremendously. 

Possibility to create lighter parts: This is very important in the industry particularly in aviation. Lighter products means less fuel and therefore cheaper operations costs for the end-user. Indeed with 3D printing, parts that were created with alloy or more heavy materials would be made of lighter materials thanks to better manufacturing process with additive technology. 

Possibility to create more complex parts: 3D-printing will also drive innovation. Indeed, with additive technology, more complex parts would be made. These parts cannot be made at the moment with traditional manufacturing methods. Driving innovation could, for example, support engine manufacturers to create better and more efficient engines as they will be able to implement more sophisticated solutions. 

Build parts in a much faster: With 3D-printing manufacturing parts become much quicker than the traditional manufacturing methods. This could disrupt the entire supply chain timeframe thus supporting the suppliers, the manufacturers to increase their production rate, making them more effective and as a result more profitable as well. 

Possibility to customize parts: This is something essential during product development phase. It is usually very expensive to build prototypes (reduce size prototypes or size 1 prototypes). With 3D printing engineers may actually build parts or entire products out of a 3D printer and test them in real conditions. This makes the testing phase of development much cheaper and time efficient as well. Engineers do not have to wait for suppliers or any third parties to manufacture a product or a part to test it. This will surely diminish the time spent during the development phase as a result it will be cost efficient as well. This offers more flexibility, quicker turnaround which is very important during the development processes. 

Better aftermarket offering: 3D-printing will accelerate the manufacturing process. This is very important for the aftermarket either in commercial aviation or in defence. In aerospace and defence end users usually must have large stocks of spares and parts in order to react quickly to any problems and ensure continuous operations of their fleet. (In commercial aviation any minutes an aircraft is not flying is cost inefficient). With 3D printing, the amount of spares and parts stored can be reduced massively as it is possible to build parts very quickly allowing a better management of spares 

Defence Turkey: What is the percent of allocated R&D resource for 3D Printing Technologies globally? In next decade, what is your forecasting on R&D activities in this field? 

Reaching such a level of information is very hard. However, firms such as the engine manufacturers, are certainly leading in this area, have already spent millions in 3D printing technologies and have plans to increase their efforts in this area. Frost and Sullivan Research forecast a rapid increase in Global 3D printing revenue reaching more than 7 billion in 2020. 

Every major participants in the Aerospace and Defence have started invested heavily in additive manufacturing. Airbus Group opened a £2.6 million centre for additive layer manufacturing in 2011. Lockheed Martin opened a new centre of research for advanced materials. The engine manufacturers General Electric (invested 3.5 billion in aviation supply chain improvement), UTC-Pratt Whitney (8 million investments in additive manufacturing innovation centre in Connecticut) and Rolls Royce (Advanced Manufacturing Research Centres in UK were established to support Rolls-Royce)... have invested tremendous amount of money in additive manufacturing and created centre to support their research on manufacturing, advanced material and new technologies. GKN has a research centre for additive manufacturing. Boeing has also invested in a manufacturing centre (Direct Manufacturing Research Centre) where they investigate additive manufacturing.