Researchers at McCormick Northwestern University led by Eric Massanet have published a research, stating that 3D printed aircraft parts could potentially save a substantial amount of fuel and materials.
During the research, Masanet and his team discovered that 3D printed aircraft parts are much lighter and high-performing, which reduces the weight of airplanes, thus decreasing carbon emissions and fuel.
Most manufacturers in the airline industry utilize a method known as Conventional Manufacturing, which is criticized to be extremely inefficient. This manufacturing method leaves a large amount of unused and unnecessary raw materials, thus wasting far more materials than it actually needs. 3D Printing methods however, use raw materials only needed for the desired aircraft parts which save raw materials and minimizing weight of the parts.
Masanet explained, “We have suboptimal designs because we’re limited by conventional manufacturing. When you can make something in layer-by-layer fashion, those constraints diminish.”
Although Masanet is hesitant towards 3D printed engines and wings, he announced that 3D printed brackets, hinges, seat buckles and furnishings could reduce the weight of an aircraft by 7%, as Masanet stated, “There are enough parts that, when replaced, could reduce the weight of the aircraft by 4 to 7 percent. And it could be even more as we move forward. This will save a lot of resources and a lot of fuel.”
Furthermore, airplane fuel consumption could be reduced by 6.4%, and could potentially reduce fossil fuel dependency and greenhouse gas emissions. Additionally, manufactures could also save “thousands of tons of aluminum, titanium, and nickel that are otherwise scrapped every year.”
Additionally, Mark Drela, professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT stated that distributing 3d printed engines along the edge of wings can potentially reduce fuel consumption by 20 percent and decrease the weight of an aircraft by 50%.
An example of such a design is a distributed engine airplane presented by Nasa below.
Mark Drela, MIT and NASA have also designed a distributed engine airplane which is 70% more fuel efficient. (image seen below)
According to Drela and his team in NASA, it will take quite some time before the distributed engine design gets implemented to commercial aircrafts. However, Drela expects to see the majority of commercial aircraft (especially Boeing) to 3D print aircraft parts very soon.