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AM in Aerospace

Additive manufacturing (AM) is a manufacturing process that creates parts by adding material, usually layer-by-layer. The ecosystem of AM technologies, particularly those processing metals, has seen significant growth because of their potential to provide commercial and performance advantages in the aerospace industry. The ability to produce complex geometries that are difficult or impossible to create with traditional manufacturing, quickly, and using hard to process materials has excited designers and engineers since the earliest days of AM technologies. Find out about the state-of-the-art and take a look to the future at RAPID + TCT, 2023.

Kick off a day of aerospace innovation by joining Omar Mireles at:
Additive Manufacture for Space: Past, Present, and Future
Omar Mireles, PhD, Additive Manufacture R&D Engineer, NASA Marshall Space Flight Center
Wednesday, May 3 @ 8:45am

AM in the aerospace sector

AM presents opportunities to reduce cost and lead times, employ novel materials, reduce mass through lightweighting, consolidate complex components and repair high-value components. With applications across aero engine manufacture, liquid-fueled rocket engines, satellite applications, and in the sustainment of legacy flight systems AM continues to find compelling use cases throughout the value chain.

Powder bed fusion processes, including Laser Powder Bed Fusion (L-PBF) and Electron Beam Powder Bed Fusion (EB-PBF), and Directed Energy Deposition (DED) processes are the most commonly adopted within the aerospace sector. Each has benefits and drawbacks and provides manufacturers with options for smaller, more complex parts through to large near-net-shape geometries.

Efficiency of manufacturing processes, in terms of cost and time, is a fundamental consideration. AM enables buy-to-fly ratios of 3:1, even approaching 1:1 in favorable circumstances, whereas traditional manufacturing techniques such as billet machining have buy-to-fly ratios of between 40:1 and 20:1 . Maximizing the buy-to-fly ratio not only improves the contribution cost for materials but also streamlines recycling and disposal of waste metals — an increasingly important consideration to all manufacturers.

Embracing design flexibility

The ability to precisely control the material distribution within parts allows thermomechanical properties to be conserved or improved over traditional manufacturing methods, while also reducing weight. Consolidating parts, as demonstrated by the GE LEAP Engine nozzle, reduces manufacturing time and cost while eliminating multiple modes of failure, inspection, and certification costs. In this application, AM was used to consolidate 20 pieces that were welded together into a single highly complex part, resulting in a fuel nozzle that was 5 times more durable, with a 25% weight saving and 30% cost saving.

With a single flight system containing maybe a million individual components the adoption of AM as a tool for maintenance, repair and operations/overhaul (MRO) can be hugely consequential. Impellers, turbine blades and airfoils are generally high-value parts that are designed to operate in harsh environments. AM as a repair tool for these parts provides a route to negating the limitations of traditional welding repair, such as distortion and residual stresses, allowing longer lifespan and reducing cost and downtime.

Materials are supporting adoption

Materials development is driving AM into new applications areas within aerospace, and manufacturers are no longer limited to common alloys used in traditional processes. AM can process aluminum alloys, high-performance titanium alloys, nickel-and iron-based superalloys, refractory alloys, copper alloys, cobalt alloys, stainless and other steels. This provides opportunities for AM to be more than simply an efficient replacement for traditional techniques but a path to entirely novel solutions.

For an insight into the way materials are opening up exciting new frontiers, check out:
Why Settle For Wrought? How Optimized AM Material Properties Are Enabling Hypersonic And Space Flight
Jacob Rindler PhD, Director, Materials and Manufacturing Technology, Castheon & Youping Gao PhD, Chief Scientist, Castheon
Thursday, May 4 @ 11:00am

Qualification and certification

While the technological ability has been repeatedly proven, the fact that AM processes are subject to multiple process variables requires special consideration when looking to qualify and certify parts. As the technologies mature and control of processing parameters becomes tighter, confidence in AM for mission critical parts improves.

To learn more about qualifying AM parts, make sure you attend:
Qualification of AM Product for Aerospace and Space Applications
Jacob Rickter, Engineer, and Business Development, PiXL
Tuesday, May 2 @ 11:00am