Additive Manufacturing: What Is It, Advantages, How Does Additive Manufacturing Help Aerospace

2021.8.3

In recent years, additive manufacturing has rapidly gained popularity globally, and many countries have begun to put their emphasis on additive manufacturing technology. China has also been at the world’s leading level in the field of metal additive manufacturing. With the continuous advancement of technology, additive manufacturing has been widely used in aerospace, mold and automotive fields. In this guide, we explain what is addictive manufacturing technology, advantages of addictive manufacturing for the aerospace industry and how does additive manufacturing help aerospace.

What Is Additive Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing (AM), also known as rapid prototyping,  rapid manufacturing, 3D printing technology, etc., refers to a scientific and technological system that directly manufactures parts based on the principle of discrete-stacking, driven by three-dimensional data of the part.

Based on different classification principles and ways of understanding, the connotation of additive manufacturing technology is still deepening, and its extension is also expanding. Additive manufacturing technology does not require traditional tools and fixtures and complex processing procedures. It can quickly and accurately manufacture parts of any complex shape on one device, thereby realizing the “free manufacturing” of parts and solving the problem of many complex structural parts. Additive manufacturing technology also reduces the processing procedures and shortens the processing cycle, so additive manufacturing technology is suitable for parts with complex structure. Additive manufacturing technology will play a huge role in the aerospace industry.

 

Advantages Of Additive Manufacturing Technology

Take 3D printing manufacturing technology as an example. As a integration of information technology and manufacturing technology, 3D printing can achieve mold-free, fast, full density of high-performance complex structure metal parts. Its mechanical properties are equivalent to that of forgings, and it has become the best new technical approach to deal with technical challenges in the aero-engine and gas turbine fields.

Compared with traditional manufacturing technology, additive manufacturing technology has the following potential advantages:

1. Low manufacturing costs. For traditional manufacturing, the more complex the product shape, the higher the manufacturing cost. 3D printing will not consume more time or cost due to the increase in the complexity of the product shape. For the manufacture of a large number of complex shapes of aeroengine parts for the pursuit of performance, 3D printing undoubtedly has advantages.

2. Suitable for product diversification. The aero engine itself is a “tested out” product, and the development process requires repeated changes to the design. Traditionally, each round of improvement needs to modify the mold and increase the manufacturing cost. 3D printing does not need to modify the mold for the shape of the product.

3. Minimize assembly and weight reduction. Through topology optimization design, 3D printing can print combined parts, reduce product assembly and reduce product weight.

4. Instant delivery. 3D printing can be printed on demand, which greatly reduces the trial production cycle of some long-cycle parts of aeroengines.

5. Traditionally, the manufacture of many parts of aeroengine has high requirements on the skills of operators, and there have even been situations where individual parts can only be manufactured by one person or a few people. 3D printing obtains various instructions from design documents to manufacture the same complex products. The operating skills required by 3D printers are far lower than those of traditional casting.

6. Traditional casting and forging can generally only manufacture products smaller than the equipment. After the 3D printer has been debugged, the printing equipment can move freely to create a product larger than its own equipment.

7. Contrary to traditional processing and subtractive manufacturing, 3D printing manufacturing belongs to additive manufacturing. A large number of traditional metal processing used in aero engines and gas turbines, a large number of raw materials are discarded in the processing process, and the “net shape” of 3D printing greatly reduces metal manufacturing waste amount.

8. For traditional aero engine and gas turbine manufacturing methods, it is very difficult to combine different materials into a single product. 3D printing has the ability to integrate different raw materials.

How Can Additive Manufacturing Help the Aerospace Sector?

Make the aircraft safer, lighter and more efficient. The aerospace industry requires quality, traceability, economy and reliability, and needs to optimize weight and performance. Additive manufacturing can achieve all the above indicators in the cost competition framework.

 

Weight loss challenge

Using traditional manufacturing techniques, weight optimized shapes can be too expensive or impossible to manufacture.

Additive manufacturing can achieve “shape compliance function”, because it can realize weight optimized design and ensure balanced stress distribution, so as to improve fuel efficiency and performance.

 

The challenge of improving efficiency

The new engine concept improves overall efficiency by increasing fuel efficiency through higher combustion temperatures, but this requires complex geometry of components, such as cooling channels. High temperature nickel base alloys and similar alloys are difficult to process, and additive manufacturing eliminates many manufacturing obstacles.

 

Additive manufacturing provides components that meet cost, complexity and performance standards. It can also reduce the number and weight of compressor blades, diffusers, noise reduction equipment, heat exchangers and other parts through integrated components, so as to have an important positive impact on the performance of aeroengines. From helicopter landing gear to instrument shell, from UAV fuselage structure to battery box, additive manufacturing can provide solutions for a variety of rotorcraft and national defense applications.