Aerospace

Aerospace additive manufacturing has taken off. This industrial segment largely skipped the prototyping “era” and jumped right into researching AM for part production. The advantages of weight optimization for any object that leaves the ground are such that the benefits from topology optimization and generative, optimized lattice geometries, made possible by AM, were crystal clear from the very beginning. This is even truer for objects that need to reach orbit, as the space vehicle manufacturing industry shapes up to become a giant industrial segment over the next ten to twenty years.

AM for aerospace has seen some serious growth in adoption over the past decade. Everyone expected this segment to continue on its booming growth path over the next twenty years, driven by factors such as economic growth, rapidly expanding middle classes in emerging economies, liberalization of trade, and increasing tourism. The COVID-19 crisis dramatically modified this scenario and it appears clear that, while general aviation will eventually return to growth, other ongoing trends – such as the sustainability of air travel and more efficient production workflows- have been significantly accelerated.

Today, even as general aviation experiences one of the biggest crises in its century-long history, new segments of aviation and aerospace are expected to experience growth. Electric flight, new supersonic flight, VTOL‘s, personal fight devices, commercial aviation, drones, defense and space travel are going to change the way we experience flying. All these segments of the aerospace industry share very heavy use of AM for rapid prototyping of new parts, tooling, or optimized final parts.

Manufacturing of civil aircraft – that is planes for commercial and general aviation – emerged as the first industry sector where 3D printing was an established manufacturing modality. Important new opportunities will continue to emerge in this area in both metal AM and polymer AM, used for metal replacement and composites. Advancements in CAD, CAE, CAM and PLM software are driving the need for AM in general and commercial aviation manufacturing. More optimized, complex shapes and the need for a more automated production process make AM ideal for a growing number of production requirements.

The new aerospace industry does not have to wait for new, higher speed AM technologies. The productivity offered by current polymer powder bed fusion and even thermoplastic filament extrusion systems – as well as metal powder bed fusion and directed energy deposition systems- is already enough to meet demand. And the extensive range of high-performance materials now supported by these technologies is an ideal fit for many advanced flying parts.

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