3D printing will revolutionize aircraft building, poll reveals

May 26, 2016 //By Christoph Hammerschmidt
Additive manufacturing – aka 3D printing - will be used for series production in the aerospace industry already in a few years. A poll among 102 industry experts in the run-up of the ILA aerospace exhibition in Berlin reveals that by 2030, 3D printing will be widespread in the production of aircraft parts.

The representative survey has been conducted by Bitkom, an organisation of digital enterprises in Germany. Polled were top executives of enterprises in the aerospace industry. A slight majority (51%) of them believes that additive manufacturing will establish itself as an indispensable technology in many branches of the aerospace industry. “3D printing has the potential to revolutionize aircraft production”, commented Bitkom General Manager Bernhard Rohleder. “It makes it possible to quickly and cost-effectively manufacture even highly complex parts – parts with a shape that is not possible to manufacture today, at least not in a cost-effective way”. In addition, in many cases additive printing enables better material properties. Plus, it helps to save up to 50% on weight, a feature that makes this technology particularly attractive for aviation applications. Printed components can also contribute to improve the aerodynamic properties of airplanes and helicopters. This in turn will have a positive impact on fuel efficiency and ecological footprint of flying.

 

Seventy percent of the experts polled believe that in the future smaller spare parts will be printed on demand at aircraft operator’s maintenance basis at airports, displacing today’s spare part logistics. Producing spare parts on location as needed will drastically reduce the high cost for stocking and logistics. “Thus, 3D printing will become a competitive factor for airlines”, Rohleder said.

Also beyond additive manufacturing, digital technologies will play an increasing role in aircraft manufacturing. Two thirds of the persons polled expect that manufacturing in the aerospace industry will be self-organized by means of digital technologies and takes place mostly under digital control by 2030. In this scenario, the production machinery will be connected with customers and suppliers which enables it to autonomously order the parts and material for the next production step. In addition, 91 percent of the experts polled believe that simulation of prototypes will be widespread in 2030. Digital simulation enables design engineers to perform virtual testing of entire