ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING – Business challenges drive aerospace companies to advance 3D printing technology
Blog: Apriso Blog
Additive manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing has moved well beyond prototyping. Today, most aerospace companies use it to improve the functionality of existing components and fabricate non-structural parts for commercial and general aviation aircraft.
AM enthusiasts envision the day when this revolutionary process will be used to “print” entire fuselages, wings and critical engine parts with complex geometries, including embedded sensors and other electronics. To achieve that disruptive vision, however, AM needs to overcome some difficult hurdles, according to Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), a US Department of Energy research facility in Tennessee. ORNL is collaborating with hundreds of companies across multiple industries to advance AM.
“In some applications, such as rapid prototyping or specific medical devices, where many parts have been printed, additive manufacturing is pretty mature, but for most applications it’s embryonic,” said Bill Peter, director of the US Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL.
Quality assurance with 3D printing
Each year, ORNL hosts more than 5,000 visitors representing about 700 organizations who want to discuss, among other technologies, additive manufacturing. Those visitors make clear, Peter said, that one of AM’s biggest hurdles is to achieve quality levels that instill as much confidence in AM-produced parts as in those made with traditional processes, including parts that are critical to the end product’s performance and safety.
“Their biggest concern is that there is no methodology for establishing the integrity of additively manufactured components,” he said.
Small modifications in process parameters and the resulting microstructures of the deposited material, such as powdered titanium or nickel, can drastically change how the end product behaves, Peter noted.
“Long term,” he added, “we’ll use a framework of data analytics and visualization systems to show how to repeatedly build a complex part with the level of quality that aerospace manufacturers require, but we are still a few years from reaching a full solution.”
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