Source: 36 Krypton
Editor’s note: 3D printing was popular a few years ago, but it seems to have no large-scale application in people’s lives yet.
But that’s not the case. 3D printing is already creeping into aviation, where you can see it and where you can’t.
Hugh R. McArthur, author of Medium, formerly titled “How 3D-Printing can, and Cannot, Change Aviation Forever”.
About two years ago, GE Airlines celebrated the successful delivery of its 30,000th 3D-printed jet fuel injector.
At the time, 3D printing and additive manufacturing (AM) technologies were hot topics.
These days, more buzzwords are emerging, like blockchain, BA-dum TSS…
It has replaced 3D printing, once the darling of the technology media.
But with the exception of some specific USES, the impact of 3D printing is still limited today and tends to be limited to consulting firms that make expensive customer platforms.
Today I want to remind you that using liquid metal to make parts — ok, maybe not — is still cool.
This paper discusses how 3D printing technology will completely change the aviation supply chain.
Let’s define it clearly
Supply chains are not usually an exciting topic, and for some people the mere word “logistics” is enough to make heads jump.
That’s why I insist that for our next exploration to be meaningful, we must start with clear definitions.
Be patient with me. At least it won’t get any worse, will it?
I hope so.
The diagram above, while greatly simplified, Outlines what the general supply chain looks like today in aviation.
The industry’s suppliers range from original equipment manufacturers (Oems), which make small parts, to large parts suppliers such as Rolls-Royce engines.
Aircraft makers such as Boeing and Airbus are close behind.
Downstream in the supply chain are “customers”, airlines and shipping companies such as British Airways and fedex.
These “customers”, of course, have their own customers: those who fly and those who need air freight.
Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO) consolidates the supply chain by providing essential services to aircraft operators.
MRO is so important to the airline industry that it is, in fact, the company most likely to reap the benefits of additive manufacturing.
However, the discussion of MRO and how it might evolve is likely to be more technical and obscure, so we won’t dwell on it here.
Reduce carbon emissions
Based on a number of variables, fuel costs can account for 30-50% of an aircraft operator’s operating costs.
This is a problem, especially as the international Air Transport Agency (IATA) forecasts 2018 that jet fuel prices will experience sustained, exponential growth over the next decade.
Higher operating costs for airlines also mean higher ticket prices that are passed on to us consumers.
Fortunately, 3D printing has inherent features that could help the aviation industry improve fuel efficiency.
First, 3D printing can be used to make large and medium-sized parts, such as aircraft doors, as a whole, without the need to bolt smaller parts together (traditional manufacturing methods).
With fewer redundant materials, lighter, thinner parts can be made without compromising structural integrity.
Autodesk, a big supplier of specialised software and models, recently did a proof-of-concept demonstration of the power of additive manufacturing.
By combining traditional casting and 3D printing, Autodesk was able to produce a prototype economy-class seat frame that weighs, on average, 56% less than its traditional counterpart.
If the A380 were fitted with such seats, it would save 63 tonnes of fuel a year per aircraft, which would also reduce carbon emissions by up to 190.1 tonnes over the same period.
Put bluntly, that is equivalent to the carbon emissions of an average of about 120,000 cars a year.
All it takes is changing a few airplane seats.
But that’s not all.….