Additive drives innovation in the aerospace sector   

AMApril21News - gminsights
AMApril21News - gminsights

It is estimated that the global additive manufacturing with metal powders market share will reach USD$ 2.6 billion in terms of annual revenue by 2030, as per a recent study by Global Market Insights, Inc.


Powered by constant technological advances and breakthroughs, the additive manufacturing with metal powders industry is set to witness an upward trend in the next few years.

Additive manufacturing (AM) or 3D printing has been one of the most revolutionary technologies in the manufacturing space. With more and more manufacturers adopting this evolving technology, it is well on its way towards becoming mainstream. Additive manufacturing with metal powders offers the possibility for producing exceptionally high-performance parts from aluminium, titanium, steel, and nickel alloys with complex geometries for demanding high-value verticals such as aerospace, automotive, medical, and many others.

Although metal AM is not new, it is only recently that the technology has become advanced enough to be used in aerospace applications. It offers aircraft makers greater design freedom and helps them cut costs, reduce weight as well as time to market while allowing them to comply with the latest industry standards.

In January 2021, the ISO TC261 and the ASTM International committee F42 had introduced a new standard which provides AM companies with qualification requirements for laser beam powder bed fusion (PFB-LB) in the aerospace industry. The standard aims to improve the ability for additively manufactured metal components to qualify for commercial, military, and civil aircrafts, as well as space flight and space propulsion.

Let’s explore some of the recent developments and innovations which show how metal AM is disrupting the aerospace sector. Also mentioned below are some of the opportunities AM companies will witness in the near future and the approaches they are implementing to capitalise on them.

How is metal additive manufacturing disrupting aerospace?

Research and development in the space is rapidly gathering pace as metal AM technology continues to disrupt the aerospace sector. Established AM firms, emerging start-ups, and research institutes are all at the forefront of innovation in additive manufacturing, backed by supportive government initiatives and programmes.

In January, Boeing had collaborated with UK-based University of Sheffield Advanced Manufacturing Research Centre (AMRC) and AI start-up Intellegens on the Project Medal (Machine Learning for Additive Manufacturing Experimental Design).

The project is part of the National Aerospace Technology Exploitation Programme (NATEP), USD$ 13.9 million initiative funded by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy. It is delivered in partnership with Innovate UK and the Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) for UK-based SMEs to design innovative aerospace technologies.

The Project Medal aims to boost the product design and development cycle of aircraft components using a machine learning model to optimise AM processing parameters for new metal alloys faster and at a lower cost. The team will focus on metal PFB-LB, specifically on key parameters required to design high strength, high density parts.

With metal AM increasingly becoming important to the serial production of components approved for the aerospace sector, leading 3D printing solution providers are collaborating to advance the production of high-performance and lightweight aircraft components.

Back in November last year, US-based GE Additive and Premium Aerotec had announced the achievement of a novel breakthrough in the commercial production of additively manufactured titanium components for aerospace applications.

The two companies developed the Concept Laser M2, a dual laser AM technology with a build volume of 250 x 250 x 350mm. It is designed to meet the specific demands and requirements of highly regulated industries such as aviation in terms of accuracy, uniformity, safety, and repeatability. Premium Aerotec plans to use the newly validated technology to manufacture components for the Airbus A320 family.

Citing another instance, in February, Florida based KW Micro Power had collaborated with California based Velo3D and nTopology, which is headquartered in New York City, to implement metal 3D printing for redesigning the housing of an compact aircraft turbocharger.

Aircraft weight is not a major concern for landbound applications. However, for auxiliary power units (APUs) on a drone or aircraft, lightweighting is crucial. The engineering team managed to reduce the generator housing weight by nearly 44% by leveraging Velo3D’s Sapphire metal PBF-LB AM machine with Aluminium F357 and nTopology’s software.

What will be the impact of machine learning and AI on metal AM?

Companies in the AM space are constantly working on implementing advanced technologies such as machine learning and AI in devices, to further boost the accuracy and efficiency of metal additive manufacturing. The process will certainly record a huge demand in the aviation industry.

In March, Senvol received funding from the US Air Force and US Navy for the advancement of its AM machine learning platform Senvol ML. Commercially launched in November 2019, Senvol ML can be used to analyse data from any AM materials, machines, or processes. It is currently used in the aerospace sector, besides some other areas.

Citing another instance, Philips Corporation recently announced that it will distribute Markforged’s AI-powered AM platform Digital Forge. The deal would help Philips strengthen its additive manufacturing portfolio which includes cold spray systems, metal power bed fusion (PBF), and directed energy deposition (DED).

Digital Forge platform combines AM machines with metals via cloud-based learning, allowing manufacturers to build strong and flexible supply chains. Currently, blue chip customers in aerospace, industrial automation, military and defence, automotive, and healthcare are among the key users of the technology.

How will the metal additive manufacturing fare in the post Covid-19 world?

The global Covid-19 pandemic and the need to contain the spread of the virus led to a shutdown of the economy during 2020. The decline in manufacturing activities worldwide had negatively impacted the metal AM industry throughout the year.

The aerospace industry has been among the most badly affected businesses due to government imposed restrictions on travel and production. During the first half of 2020, Boeing delivered just 70 commercial aircraft, compared to around 239 in the first half of 2019.

However, with the revival of the global economy, relaxing government restrictions and resuming of manufacturing operations, the additive manufacturing with metal powders industry is well poised for a rebound. With the need to invent products faster, many businesses who have been moving slowly into AM will find new reasons to accelerate in the coming years. To read more:

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