Metal 3D printing has always been lauded for its industrial applications. One of its most promising uses is in aeronautical engineering. While many companies are jumping onboard the 3D printing train, nowhere is there more buzz than in aviation. That’s where Boeing comes in. The company has struck a landmark deal in the production of their new airplanes.
Boeing has announced that their new 787 aircraft will utilize parts made from titanium alloys. The company allied with Norsk Titanium to 3D print these parts. As a result, Boeing will shave their costs down by about $2 – $3 million per unit. Both companies still have one hurdle however. They are, as of yet, still expecting approval from the Federal Aviation Authority.
Norsk will initially 3D print the parts in Norway. Eventually, they hope to set up various production facilities in New York. Under current procedures, titanium accounts for $17 million costs of a $265 million airliner. The cost per unit savings will be a major boon for the industry.
Previously, Boeing produced titanium parts with forging and machining. These outdated process and cost intensive methods are being replaced with an undisclosed method of 3D printing. It is most likely that they will use DMLS. While there are other methods of printing titanium, DMLS has been the most prominent one.
Metal Printing and Aerospace
Boeing is not the only company dipping its toes in 3D printing. General Electric has been printing fuel nozzles for air transport for quite a while. However, there is a core difference between these 2 projects. Boeing have produced the first printed part meant to withstand the pressures and force of air travel. Since Boeing are producing bits of the frame for the plane, it is a notably more strenuous task.
Lockheed Martin and Honeywell have also announced their adjacent 3D printing projects. Aerospace is a natural fit with AM techniques. Although, more traditional 3D printing (FFF, DLP) is not being used in the aerospace industry. The core problem that companies run into with these types is scale. 3D printers will have to be much bigger to be able to produce every part of an airplane. So far, companies are making do with smaller components. For this reason, DMLS is more suitable than others. All it requires is a laser and platform. These can be easily adjusted for size.
DMLS is the most common means of producing metal prints. DMLS stands for Direct Metal Laser Sintering. The use of lasers to combine alloys allows manufacturers to create functional metallic parts of high strength and durability. We will likely see an enduring presence of DMLS in the coming years as part of any industry that requires high durability metal parts.