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.
How 3D printing fits into the digital thread, and the relationship between its uses for prototyping and for manufacturing, was the subject of a talk by Proto Labs' Rich Baker at last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis.
How can automakers, aerospace contractors, and other OEMs get new metal alloys that are stronger, harder, and can survive ever higher temperatures? One way is to redesign their crystalline structures at the nanoscale and microscale.
Although a lot of the excitement about 3D printing and additive manufacturing surrounds its ability to make end-products and functional prototypes, some often ignored applications are the big improvements that can come by using it for tooling, jigs, and fixtures.
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