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Researchers at the State Key Laboratory of Solidification Processing, Northwestern Polytechnical University have been experimenting with 3D printing since 1995. And just recently they announced that they had printed a huge 3 meter wingspar out of titanium, strong enough to meet standards for aerospace use. Colour us impressed – to my knowledge, no one has created pieces that big, ever. Concrete or plastic, yes. Titanium? Oh my goodness.

One of the key industries that 3D printing is being used in as a direct-to-manufacture technique is aerospace. Weight reduction without sacrificing safety is the name of the game – 3D Printing has changed the game completely. Internal lattice structures, un-millable shapes and topological optimization are just a few of the most common ways airplanes can become lighter. Even the smallest weight reduction can save airlines millions of dollars. According to Wired Magazine, for every 25 gram packet of peanuts that is left on the ground, American Airlines saves $2,000 per year. No wonder those dinky bags are so small.

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Right now I bet you’re asking ‘as-if they’re going to use that spar’. Well yes they are. It is expected to be installed in the new Comac C919 passenger airplane (above) in 2014 and flying by 2016. Lab director Huang Weidong had all this to say.

Modern aerospace industry has stringent requirements, so complex additive manufacturing processes must be developed to meet to ensure that products can achieve the robust performance levels established by traditional manufacturing methods…..Furthermore, aerospace parts have often complex structure, it could cost thousands or millions dollars to raplace the damage parts. LAM can be employed in repairing these metal parts without changes the preformance and it can save our time and cost significantly.

Seems like a challenge has been laid down to US and EU manufacturers. Otherwise, it’s meep meep.

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Source: 3Ders and cnwest.com

Filed under: TECH

  • Charles Culp

    Surface finish, surface finish, surface finish.

    We do not use 3d printed titanium parts for our aircraft programs because of fatigue problems with the non-uniform grain and non-uniform surface finish.

    We even did a study where we reduced the weight of one of our components by 1/3 (a big deal in aircraft), and our customer wouldn’t go for it because of fatigue concerns.

  • http://www.dshape.ca JF Brandon

    These are going into Chinese airplanes Charles.

    But it’s good to know where Airplane mfg stands. Fatigue is a huge issue no doubt – you have to run these pieces through years and years of testing before they leave the ground and sell to the public.

    I believe there is this company … Boeing? Their new gee-whiz Dreamliner has a few issues I believe?

  • Josh M

    Sandpaper, Charles, sandpaper ;-)

    Prints for ducts in the ECS and othe non-structural (or hidden) parts is the most I’ve done. We were researching printing galley cabinets. Doable as long as you can print that size and it’s reinforced in the proper areas to pass the pull test. No doubt it’ll be used more often though

  • http://www.facebook.com/steve.lee.9066 Steve Lee

    Well, once the bugs are worked out they’re going to save millions in tooling costs. Millions!

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