Additive Manufacturing: The revolution is taking flight

Obsolescence is an unavoidable by-product of technological progress. However, for highly regulated industries such as aerospace, obsolescence can pose a huge problem.

The reason behind this is because there are problems with compliance, which makes it difficult to source alternate components. With developments in additive manufacturing (AM), many are wondering if 3D-printed components could solve aerospace's problem.

The aerospace and defence industry was one of the first to adopt additive technology. Thanks to the many applications of AM, the sector become one of the market’s biggest player. In the year 2020, it provided 3.58 billion dollars in US dollars.

What are the benefits of 3D printed parts?

With the growing demand for lightweight parts for aircraft engines, 3D printing provides many benefits for the aerospace industry. For instance, the possibility of printing in a wide variety of metal powders to create hollow and complex designs.

Thanks to these innovations, AM is transforming aerospace manufacturing by reducing weight and removing design constraints. As a result of this, you can reduce costs, carbon emissions, and development times. Because of these benefits, many people are curious about whether it could also be a solution to obsolescence?

Stakeholders who operate in industries that are highly regulated have a particularly strong interest in this possibility. This is because of the mountainous amounts of paperwork and red tape involved in updating to newer components.

The United States and the Swiss governments are only two of several that have launched recent research initiatives. They explore the possibility of AM in combating obsolescence in the defence sector. Though the results are promising, there are still serious technical and bureaucratic challenges.

Copyright and regulations

The majority of parts in the aerospace industry have decades-long life cycles. However, internal components used in those systems, such as semi conductors and electronic boards, have much shorter life cycles. For these parts, aerospace manufacturers can run into difficulties sourcing, especially with increased demand amongst a supply shortage.

Implementing AM could help, but 3D printing parts using designs from the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) raises copyright concerns.

Copyright and intellectual property claims could prevent the aerospace industry from progressing with AM use for obsolescence. However, new legislations rolling out in the EU and the US could soon address this issue. These countries push to become more repair-minded.

The industry will face another challenge: determining whether AM components are safe for aerospace and defence purposes. As a result of many standards and regulations, these components would need to go through strict testing protocols and certifications. This will ensure component safety, repeatability, and consistency.

There is some progress in this sense. For instance, there is manufacturing execution system (MES) software for AM. This software enables aerospace manufacturers to increase compliance with regulations like AS9100.

However, there are still many obstacles to overcome before AM can successfully manage obsolescence. This makes this approach inconvenient for the time being. This is why aerospace manufacturers might want to go the traditional way for now.  Implementing a good obsolescence management plan and connecting with specialized parts suppliers, like EU Automation, to help source obsolete parts.