Look for intense collaborative research efforts over the next 10 years to improve additive manufacturing technologies for use in high-tech aerospace applications. The cost of aerospace components is boosted dramatically due to the amount of material beyond the finished geometry that must be removed during manufacturing-often 90 percent or more, according to Chris English, an engineer with GE Aviation. As a result there is increased interest in the potential to use additive manufacturing technologies that were originally developed for rapid prototyping applications.
One example is a project at the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering at the Georgia Institute of Technology. Researchers there are looking at the potential to produce net shape low-density cellular metal structures from layer-based additive manufacturing of metal-oxide ceramic slurry followed by post-processing in a reducing atmosphere. A ceramic suspension would be direct printed in a research investigation. Many issues remain, however, with existing additive manufacturing systems including materials available, poor surface finish, difficulties in removing support systems, and inability to make large parts.
Artificially created metamaterials are already appearing in niche applications like electronics, communications, and defense, says a new report from Lux Research. How quickly they become mainstream depends on cost-effective manufacturing methods, which will include additive manufacturing.
SpaceX has 3D printed and successfully hot-fired a SuperDraco engine chamber made of Inconel, a high-performance superalloy, using direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The company's first 3D-printed rocket engine part, a main oxidizer valve body for the Falcon 9 rocket, launched in January and is now qualified on all Falcon 9 flights.
Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and MIT have 3D-printed a new class of metamaterials that are both exceptionally light and have exceptional strength and stiffness. The new metamaterials maintain a nearly constant stiffness per unit of mass density, over three orders of magnitude.
Smart composites that let the material's structural health be monitored automatically and continuously are getting closer to reality. R&D partners in an EU-sponsored project have demonstrated what they say is the first complete, miniaturized, fiber-optic sensor system entirely embedded inside a fiber-reinforced composite.
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