At the Inside 3D Printing Conference & Expo at the Javits Center in New York City, investors, developers, and business managers are meeting to discuss the exciting prospects for 3D printing technology in a wide array of industry sectors. Attendees are excited about everything from the collaborative possibilities of energizing customer interaction with consumer brands or the production of patient-specific medical devices.
Aerospace and automotive have already adopted additive manufacturing (AM) techniques for a variety of production requirements, but room remains for innovation and implementation. During the series “Printing in Practice: Aerospace and Automotive,” Brett Lyons, materials and process engineer at Boeing’s Research and Technologies Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM) Team, and Econolyst Managing Director Dr. Phil Reeves detailed the ways in which AM has impacted these industries, as well as future prospects.
Lyons summarized the reasons AM is attractive to aerospace manufacturers by pointing out several major benefits: AM’s ability to produce freeform geometry parts and the responsive manufacturing aspects. Adding material layer by layer allows the designer and engineer a large amount of wiggle room in designing complex geometries, which would be prohibitively expensive or physically impossible to produce via other methods. Additionally, AM can significantly reduce lead times through rapid turn-around cycles between design and production, which saves on additional storage and maintenance costs. Further, AM is producing parts at lighter weights than traditionally-manufactured components.
Dr. Reeves pointed out the intersection between AM and luxury automotive production. Noting that a company like Audi may claim it produces 7 million individual cars, Dr. Reeves elaborated on the possibility for AM to make luxury design more individual and exclusive by allowing customers to create variations on interior design or entertainment components. Traditional manufacturing would make this type of customization too expensive for all but the wealthiest of customers, but AM can make the process both less expensive and faster.
Using AM to directly produce production parts also impacts aerospace and automotive industrial design and production, Dr. Reeves said. Because AM is better capable of creating unconventional shapes and variations in thickness, designers can build components with latticed or roughly-textured walling to encourage thermal transfer. The process can also produce smaller and less expensive parts that will realize investment or operational cost savings faster than traditionally-produced parts.
However, both Lyons and Dr. Reeves recognized problems in 3D printing and other AM techniques. AM boasts a small, but growing trained workforce and relies on supply chains that are burgeoning. The array of materials available for AM is more compacted than traditional manufacturing techniques. Because of these factors, and others, using 3D techniques to produce some parts with complex geometries is currently improbable. Dr. Reeves was confident, though, that with about a decade and $1 billion of research and development, manufacturers will see AM making a tremendous impact on aerospace and defense, automotive, and many other manufacturing sectors.