Reaching new heights: 3D printing and aerospace

The aerospace industry is in a constant state of evolution, with engineers and designers working continuously to improve efficiency, safety, comfort, and efficacy of aircraft. Combined with 3D printing technology, the industry can accomplish this at a fraction of the time and cost. We’ve assembled a few of the top names doing just that.

Royal Netherlands Air Force  

Performing regular maintenance on numerous types of aircraft such as Chinooks, Apaches, and F16s is a daunting yet necessary task. By creating custom tools with Ultimaker printers – special caps that cover openings in jet engines during transportation, jigs that allow for easy installation of helicopter parts –  the Royal Netherlands Air Force is able to work smarter and faster, simultaneously ensuring that all aircraft are in prime condition.

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"Our transition to a fifth-generation Air Force can only be done with people who realize that they can be a part of that change now, not later," Bas Janssen, a member of the Ambition Innovation Results (AIR) division, which focuses on manufacturing techniques used by the Air Force, said. "Ultimaker makes it possible to do just that: help people understand what additive manufacturing can do for them right now – without a long learning curve. The current software and hardware help people to make their idea come to life."

British Airways  

 In December 2019, British Airways began to engage in trial runs of 3D printing for a variety of uses. Parts would be created on-site at airports, accelerating supply chains and reducing emissions caused during transport. Tech experts at the airline believe 3D printing can be used to create tray tables, cutlery, baggage containers – even flight deck switches and aircraft shells.

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"We work with start-ups and innovation partners from around the world to explore and implement the very latest technologies, from artificial intelligence to speed up turnaround times to biometrics, helping us to deliver a seamless airport experience for customers," Ricardo Vidal, Head of Innovation at British Airways, said in a press release. "3D printing is yet another advancement that will keep us at the forefront of airline innovation."

Sweetening the pot is the potential for a more sustainable future. According to the airline, 3D printers are able to create parts that are as strong and durable as those created using traditional methods of manufacturing but weigh up to 55% less. The statistic is striking, as every kilogram taken off the weight of a commercial aircraft can save up to 25 tons of CO2 emissions over its lifespan. 

KLM Royal Dutch Airlines

During his visit to KLM Royal Dutch Airlines’ engineering center, airline blogger Sam Chui experienced how KLM uses 3D printing to create functional parts from recycled materials. The airline operates eight innovation hubs, where it utilizes 3D printing for engineering and maintenance uses, seeking processes and results that are faster, safer, and more durable. A one-week trial period saw KLM engineers transforming PET plastic waste used in the airlines’ operations to create 150 kilograms of 3D printing filament. This filament was then used to create parts such as engine blade fan covers.

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Want the exact numbers on the value of 3D printing? Check out our free white paper: The ROI of 3D printing.

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