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Boeing and Northrop Grumman Commit to Additive Manufacturing Initiative

Image courtesy of Northrop Grumman northrop.jpg
The two aerospace companies have joined Additive Manufacturing Forward (AM Forward), an effort to help US suppliers increase their use of additive manufacturing.

We’re seeing a number of efforts in the aerospace industry to increase the use of additive manufacturing. The programs range from the White House program, AM Forward, to defense programs designed to increase the use of AM. The idea is to utilize the benefits of AM to improve US manufacturing.

AM Forward is an effort from the White House to increase the use of advanced manufacturing processes. “A priority of this Administration is to lower the cost of the goods and services that families rely on, and one of the best ways to do that is to make more things in America, with more secure and more resilient supply chains,” said Sue Helper, senior advisor for industrial strategy at the White House, in a statement. “AM Forward focuses on additive manufacturing to help us achieve these goals.”

AM Forward mirrors a US Department of Defense (DoD) directive on additive manufacturing that encourages the technology throughout the military. DoD has announced plans to integrate 3D printing into DoD projects. In this fireside chat, Kristin Mulherin, the President of Women in 3D Printing, was joined by Tracy Frost, the director of the Manufacturing Technology Program at the Office of the Secretary of Defense to explain more about the DoD directive.

Six Ways AM Can Bolster Aerospace Manufacturing

The Dassault Systèmes company, Spatial Corp., has outlined six ways that additive manufacturing can improve aerospace projects.

  1. Build Parts with Complex Geometries

From helicopter parts to turbine engines, aerospace components require highly complex geometric structures in sometimes very tight spaces. 

Rather than create small, intricate parts separately and combine them into the whole later, a design engineer can create 3D models of the entire structure using printing CAD data - interior components and all. The 3D printer can create one seamless part that includes all the intricate internal dimensions and complex geometries, with no assembly required.

2. More Efficient Prototyping

Without the need to design molds and outsource production, aerospace engineers can design and print prototypes in a fraction of the time that it would take using traditional manufacturing methods. With the ability to create and test prototypes faster, aerospace companies can speed up their time to market and stay ahead of the competition.

In aerospace, it’s very important that a part is produced according to specifications. With conventional manufacturing, the specification process has already been set up. However, the specification process has not been set up with additive manufacturing, so ensuring that a manufactured part has been produced according to specifications is not as clear-cut.

3. Cost-Effective Production

Additive manufacturing can not only reduce the time to create prototypes, but it can also reduce the cost.

With conventional manufacturing, material waste can be as high as 98% for many aerospace applications. You can end up with lots of metal chips after subtraction, and creating the right mold can be a lengthy process. Since the material is added and not subtracted with additive manufacturing, it can drastically reduce material waste, helping manufacturers save money on production costs.

4. Increase Parts’ Internal Strength

Every time smaller parts are combined to make a larger object, it reduces the structural integrity of the whole. With additive manufacturing, design engineers can create entire parts, including hollow centers and interior components, without weak, vulnerable joints.

5. Create Lightweight Components

Fuel is one of the highest costs in the aerospace industry. The best way to reduce fuel consumption is to create lighter parts. Unfortunately, when using conventional manufacturing, it’s nearly impossible to create lighter parts without sacrificing structural integrity.

Additive manufacturing of airplane parts without the need for joining components like bolts and screws, additive manufacturing processes can reduce frame weight by 25%, while increasing structural integrity.

6. Decrease Storage Needs

The aerospace industry has one of the most notoriously long supply chains of any industry. In order to have parts available, many aerospace companies stockpile large quantities of components in warehouses - another cost and logistical concern.

Because the additive manufacturing process is fast and efficient, aerospace manufacturers can produce components - including custom parts - in-house in a fraction of the time and cost as if they had to order it through the standard supply chain. This reduces the need to have parts on hand or maintain extensive storage facilities.

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