Last week, Geekwire reported that Boeing recently has filed a patent application for its 3d printed aircraft parts.
Besides Boeing trying to patent the 3d printing of aircraft parts it is also trying to patent the entire system around it including: “a parts library, a database, a parts management system, and a three dimensional printing system.” Boeing describes a method and apparatus for requesting, authorizing, printing, and even paying for aircraft parts under the simple title: “Three Dimensional Printing of Parts”. Simple title, HUGE impact and implications!
In GeekWire’s article, Boeing spokesperson Nathan Hulings stated:
“When production 3D printed parts need replacing, we use 3D printed parts. Right now the company only uses non-metallic 3D printed parts on production programs. (…) We have approximately 300 different part numbers on 10 different aircraft production programs, which amounts to more than 20,000 non-metallic additive manufactured parts that are on vehicles that we have delivered to our customers. The F/A-18 Super Hornet has approximately 150 parts in the forward fuselage area that have been produced through selective laser sintering.”
Not only are they applying for some future applications, but Boeing has actually already installed over 20,000 3d printed parts in airplanes! The parts currently used are not metallic, but the application is covering “a variety of different materials such as polymers, plasters, metals, and metal alloys”.
Since the application of 3d printing is well known in aerospace industry and 3d printed parts are being used in many technologically advanced countries, question remains how will this patent affect complex and intertwined global industry relations? Will there be some counter action by other companies? Will it trigger patent wars? Only future will tell …
This news is important from patent standpoint, but no one is actively investigating effect of such broad implementation of 3d printing integrated production and supply systems on labour force employed in big aerospace industry and subcontractors. Sure, robots are widely used in aerospace production, but 3d printing is completely new paradigm with different economics.
As it is stated in patent application:
“During the lifetime of an aircraft, parts may be replaced. In order to meet demand for replacement parts, aircraft manufacturers may keep an inventory of parts on hand. A client may request parts from the aircraft manufacturer when a replacement part is desired. However, receiving requested parts from the aircraft manufacturer may take an undesirable amount of time for a client. Some clients may keep an inventory of parts on hand to avoid waiting an undesirable amount of time. However, storing an inventory of extra parts either at an aircraft manufacturer or at a client may use an undesirable amount of resources.”
So, when the patent application speaks of “undesirable amount of time and resources” it probably means much shorter supply chain and on-demand production which will probably result in many people losing their job. Will it make airplane tickets cheaper? Your guess is as good as mine …
Boeing has pushed the entire 3d printing industry forward with this action and another big milestone has been reached. Welcome to the additive manufacturing age!