Aerospace AM

Before COVID-19 hit, the aerospace industry was flying and aerospace additive manufacturing had taken off. Short, medium and long-term perspectives were excellent and the entire aerospace industrial segment was jumping right AM for final part production. That all came to a virtual standstill for several months, as global aviation traffic collapsed and demand for new planes slowed dramatically.

However, the advantages of weight optimization for any object that leaves the ground are such that the benefits from topology optimization and generative, optimized lattice geometries, made possible by AM, remained clear. In addition, AM gradually emerged as a solution to address supply chain resiliency issues and enabled production flexibility both in terms of meeting smaller orders on-demand, without the need of building large inventories and shifting to new production lines (for example medical supplies) as needed.

While the aviation industry is now back to registering significant growth, aerospace additive manufacturing companies are now increasingly shifted towards new aerospace, and New Space businesses, including electric flight, new supersonic flight, VTOL‘s, personal fight devices, commercial aviation, drones, defense and space.

In our 2021 and 2022 focus, we zoomed in on aerospace zoomed in specifically on the use of AM in these exciting segments of the aerospace industry. The use of AM in Space, in particular, has really taken off, with several companies such as Launcher (now part of Vast), Redwire, Rocket Lab, Ursa Major and many other now trailing SpaceX and using AM to make the jump into orbit more accessible and affordable.

At the same time, UAVs (both drones used in the defense industry and eVTOL’s now in development by multiple companies around the world for commercial use as flying taxis) are proving to be ideal products to employ additive manufacturing both in the development and in the initial low-batch production stage.

As the commercial aviation industry takes back its leading role both. within the aerospace segment and driving the evolution of additive manufacturing for final parts production, important new opportunities continue to emerge in this area in both metal AM and polymer AM, used for metal replacement, composites and especially composite tooling. Advancements in CAD, CAE, CAM and PLM software are driving the need for AM in general and commercial aviation manufacturing. More optimized, complex shapes and the need for a more automated production process make AM ideal for a growing number of production requirements.

The new aerospace industry does not have to wait for new, higher-speed AM technologies. The productivity offered by current polymer powder bed fusion and even thermoplastic filament extrusion systems – as well as metal powder bed fusion, directed energy deposition systems and soon metal binder jetting – is already enough to meet demand. And the extensive range of high-performance materials now supported by these technologies is an ideal fit for many advanced flying parts.

Follow us this month of June as we zoom in on the most interesting, relevant, profitable and beneficial applications of aerospace additive manufacturing.

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