How 3D Technology is Revolutionizing the Aerospace Industry

3D Printing In Aerospace and Aviation

According to audit consulting & advisory firm Deloitte, global aerospace aircraft revenues were expected to grow 4.8% in 2018, and the commercial aircraft sector’s operating profits were projected to be up a whopping 18.5%. An obvious corollary to this growth is increased competition and opportunity within the aerospace industry. In order to maintain a competitive advantage, firms must be able to optimize key aspects of their business, including manufacturing, repair, analysis, and research & development (R&D). 3D technology is one of the key technologies enabling firms to remain ahead of the curve in this highly competitive industry.

What 3D Technologies Can Be Used In Aerospace?

3D printing is one of the most popular 3D technologies, and many may already be familiar with the basic concept of taking a computer model and using a 3D printer to output a physical version of that model. The use case here is obvious: manufacturing parts & prototyping. In some cases, you may hear 3D printing used in the manufacturing process referred to as “additive manufacturing.” For information on the distinction between the two, please refer to the ANSI Blog article, Is it 3D Printing or Additive Manufacturing? In their article on additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry, wrote: “3D printing has nowhere to go but up.” This sentiment holds true not just for the 3D printing industry in general, but for 3D printing in aerospace as well. For example, Frost & Sullivan predicts that the global 3D printing materials market for the aerospace industry will have a 20.3% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2017 and 2024.

3D scanning is a technology that is related to 3D printing but can also do so much more. In addition to creating the models that can be used for 3D printing, scanning enables comprehensive reporting, highly granular analysis, inspection capabilities, price and accurate measuring, rapid data collection, and more. In the aerospace industry, where precision and accuracy are vital to the success of a business and the safety of passengers, scanners capable of precision down to the micron-level are important. The importance of precision place pressure on players in the industry to make sure their tools are as fine-tuned as they can be.

However, speed is also important, as beating the competition to market and improving workflows can make or break a business. In a nutshell, that’s why a 3D measurement solution that is both highly accurate and fast is critical in the aviation industry. For a deeper dive on this topic, check out this article on the GOM ATOS Triple Scan and how it won the GE Aviation High Accuracy, High Throughput Inspection Technologies Challenge.

Aircraft Mechanics working with 3D technology additive manufacturing

Like 3D technologies, automation is a big part of Industry 4.0. As automation is added to a given manufacturing solution, predictability and velocity can be added to workflows and processes. This helps eliminate errors and reduce turnaround times. In the world of 3D technology, there are a variety of tools for automation that can help enable improved aerospace inspection and manufacturing processes. For an overview of the automation solutions available, check out this Automation and Metrology piece. For a more on Industry 4.0 in general, check out this Forbes article.

The final piece of 3D technology to discuss here is 3D software–the software that helps drive the hardware and processes that enable businesses to get the most out of the other 3D technologies. 3D software makes advanced measurement, inspection, and analysis possible. In addition to various premium software offerings, certain products enable users to get started with mesh processing, inspection, and dimensional analysis.

The aforementioned Frost & Sullivan called out five key trends creating growth in the market. In short, those trends are:

  • Plastic filaments and their impact on the market for 3D printing materials
  • A shift to production of flight-worthy parts
  • Improved tooling applications from 3D printing
  • The potential for metal powders to have huge upside in the creation of aircraft parts
  • The North American market and its upside and growth opportunities

Additionally, recently called attention to the growth opportunities related to maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) in the aviation industry. While historically “Tier 1” suppliers and integrators have been the only major players in the MRO aviation space, that is changing. For example, Boeing has created a specific business unit, Boeing Global Services, dedicated to this aftermarket space. This creates an interesting dynamic and some unique opportunities for “Tier 2” suppliers (e.g. electronic manufacturing service companies also known as EMSes). The EMS Now article suggests that Tier 2 suppliers can gain some traction in this market by creating the win/win dynamic of enabling the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) to retain their intellectual property (IP) on the parts while outsourcing the actual creation of the parts in a cost-effective way. 3D technology can enable these Tier 2 suppliers to operate in a lean enough fashion to be cost-effective, and coupled with the elimination of the threat to an OEM’s IP, this can be a compelling business case.

What Are Some Real-World Use Cases For 3D Technology In The Aerospace Industry?

While understanding the market at a high-level can help you get an idea of how 3D technology can help a business, reviewing real-world use cases can help conceptualize things further.

Laser Cutting Aviation 3D

Mitsubishi and Aircraft Skin Panel Production

Mitsubishi Heavy Industries used the ATOS structured blue light 3D scanner and TRITOP system in their digital manufacturing process. These highly precise tools enabled Mitsubishi to make sure their parts fit for optimized mounting and reliability.

Airbus and the Certification of the A350

The reduction of weight and fuel consumption is huge in the aerospace industry. This incentivizes the use of lightweight materials like carbon fiber composite (CFC) materials. Not only can these materials improve fuel efficiency and performance, but they can help minimize environmental impact. However, given the high-stakes of aerospace, safety and reliability cannot be sacrificed in the name of weight reduction. For this reason, the Airbus A350 had to go through a rigorous certification process. Airbus trusted non-contact measurement tools using GOM Photogrammetry technology to help enable the inspections related to the certification process.

Contributing Author: Catherine Kim, Marketing & Sales Operations Manager, Capture 3D

Catherine Kim is the Marketing & Sales Operations Manager at Capture 3D. Capture 3D is the exclusive North American partner for GOM GmbH and provides 3D scanners, photogrammetry systems, inspection software, dynamic tracking, and automated robotic solutions for streamlining manufacturing production and reducing time-to-market.

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