3D Printing in Aerospace—Revolution or Evolution?

Global 3D aerospace printing market saw Boeing first produce AM parts for in-service aircraft

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08.04.2015 05:50:02 - 3D Printing in Aerospace—Revolution or Evolution? - a new market research report on

( - After highlighting additive manufacturing (AM) as one of the most important technological trends in aerospace and defence, we attended the Additive Manufacturing for Defence and Aerospace summit in London in February 2015. The first conclusion arrived at based on the summit is additive manufacturing is drawing a lot of attention. Looking at how many people attended this event and the


variety of organisations represented (aircraft and engine manufacturers, lower tier suppliers, academics, and so on) the first conclusion is additive manufacturing is clearly drawing a lot of attention. Many attendees and speakers agreed that additive manufacturing will not replace the conventional processes. However, in many cases, it will be a great substitute that will play a major role in the future developments in aviation.

The industry perception is that AM will be adopted, but how quickly it will be adopted is the current question. Will AM processes be adopted faster than composite and carbon fibre material on aerospace platforms had been? The military forces could adopt it quicker and drive its evolution in the commercial world as the qualification and certification processes are not as stringent in the forces as they are in commercial aviation. In this market insight, the current achievements of additive manufacturing in the aviation industry have been highlighted, along with the main motivations to implement AM, the major challenges, and the importance of understanding AM as an end-to-end process. Industry stakeholders have identified this as an essential step towards reaching a high level of reliability, driving wider adoption.

Adoption of AM is currently still quite low in the aerospace industry. Only a few polymer parts are used in service aircraft. The rate of development of AM varies depending on the material. As AM was first developed for polymers (plastics), the experience acquired on this material is higher than the experience gained on metals. However, due to the original structure of the aircraft, additive manufacturing for metal could maximize gains, such as weight reduction. As a result, aerospace and defence participants are making significant efforts in this direction.

The first firm to produce AM parts for in-service aircraft and use them in commercial flights was Boeing. A few years ago it developed an environmental control system duct for the F/A-18, which was later introduced on the Boeing 787. So far, Boeing has produced ducts which are in service. The environmental control system ECS duct is a polymer component developed and produced with Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) machines.

The engine manufacturers, General Electric Aviation (GE Aviation) and its subsidiary Avio Aero, Pratt & Whitney (UTC Group), and Turbomeca (Safran Group) have developed metallic parts for their next generation engines with AM. These engines are soon to be in service. The most famous example is GE Aviation´s fuel nozzle developed for the Leap engine (CFM International). It was made public in 2012 when GE Aviation decided to acquire Morris Technologies. This part is in cobalt chrome (CbCr) and has been specifically developed with AM in mind.

Avio Aero, a subsidiary of GE, has also used an additive manufacturing process, the Electron Beam Melting (EBM) to develop light weight titanium (Titanium Aluminide-TiAl) blades for jet engine low pressure turbines (LPT). These blades have been printed in a different size for every commercial engine of the GE portfolio (leap, GEnx, GE90, and GE9x). This part was tested at the end of the last year on the GEnx engine (the Boeing 787 and 747-8 engine) and will most certainly be produced for the 777-x engine -- the GE9x.

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