Additive manufacturing (AM) goes beyond 3D printing. It has evolved into a production and manufacturing technology that displaces or complements conventional processes in an increasing number of applications in aerospace and defence (A&D) as well as other industries.
At its genesis some 30 years ago 3D printing was restricted to plastic. The advent of laser sintering metal powder changed the game because it allows metal objects to be printed. Almost every type of metal can be used for AM. by putting down successive layers of metal powder that is then solidified using precisely targeted heat from lasers.
Predictability of form, performance and lifespan are built into AM because digital designs are exactly re-produced as a solid objects and the digital model has all the characteristics of its physical counterpart. Residual stress, thermal evaluation and cooling rates can also be calculated prior to part manufacture. Another benefit is that there is no wasted material as happens with subtractive machining where shapes are cut from solid block of often valuable metals such as titanium. And AM uses 90% less energy than traditional machine tools.
AM is used extensively by our aerospace OEM partners including Airbus Group which after a two-year comprehensive benchmarking process, is extending its use of additive manufacturing by integrating design, simulation and production.
Additive manufacturing is creating exciting new opportunities in many different areas such as remote fabrication for support and maintenance, rapid prototyping for realizing new concepts and experiences and, perhaps most importantly, developing designs that were previously impossible to fabricate using standard machine tools.
Another AM partnership is with leading international high-technology group in aerospace, defense and security, Safran Group where virtual validation of the additive manufacturing process is being developed. This will provide digital continuity for all engineering parameters necessary for the additive manufacturing of engine parts. That includes: material science, functional specification, generative design, 3D printing optimization, multi-robotic production and certification.
Deploying AM in the aerospace industry brings otherwise dispersed islands of expertise onto a single unified platform. This provides the ability to access all relevant data from a single source, meaning there is only one version of the truth. Digitally simulated parts can also be placed in real-life contexts to show how they will behave and perform when made. And 3D simulations can also include the 4th dimension; time, to demonstrate product performance over its lifecycle.
AM represents a new arena not just for aerospace but for many other manufacturing sectors. When it is run on a seamless unified platform that builds bridges between skills the advantages and benefits of this exciting technology are multiplied. Its dynamic evolution is attracting interest and bright minds because AM is the cutting edge of technology that like all good technology makes complexity simple.