Skip to content

How Additive Manufacturing Is Changing Aerospace Production

As one of the first industries to embrace additive manufacturing, aerospace has successfully woven the technology into its production operations. Additive manufacturing technologies are becoming more widely available and affordable for aerospace manufacturers of all sizes. The prevalence of 3D printers has led to significant changes in the aerospace manufacturing and design process, which has affected production of aerospace products at all different levels. Learn about how additive manufacturing technologies are transforming the aerospace industry.

Aerospace Component Design

Aerospace parts are complex, and they are held to strict quality standards in order to meet safety regulations. Made up of intricate geometric structures, these components form small parts that must fit together with other small parts. Using traditional manufacturing methods, these parts would be produced separately and then combined.

With additive manufacturing technologies, an aerospace design engineer can digitally create a 3D model of the whole structure, including all the small interior components. Once this design is created, the engineer can print the entire aerospace component on a 3D printer and have a complete part that doesn’t require additional assembly. This process decreases production lead time for intricate parts, which makes the production process more efficient.

Rapid Prototyping

3D modeling and 3D printing are efficient ways to design an end product, but they can also be used to create prototypes of aerospace components. Additive manufacturing allows aerospace engineers to create product prototypes much faster compared to traditional manufacturing methods.

With 3D printers, engineers can develop all prototypes in-house, and use 3D-modeling programs to quickly change designs and print new prototypes. This reduces expenses during the product development stage, while still allowing engineers to test and improve product designs. Rapid prototyping helps companies finalize product design faster, and the sooner a product is produced, the sooner it can go to market. In this way, additive manufacturing helps aerospace companies stay ahead of competition.

Gravity Industries, a human flight company, used rapid prototyping to develop its jet suits. Additive manufacturing technology permitted the company to use low-cost materials to create several different 3D-printed designs for the suits’ vortex-cooled rocket engine igniter. Thanks to rapid prototyping capabilities, the Gravity Industries team was able to limit expenditures and quickly decide on a high-performing design.

3D-Printed Rockets

Additive manufacturing is used to make several different aerospace components, from aircraft floor markings to entire jet engines. Today, some commercial airplanes have more than 1,000 3D-printed parts. Advancements in additive manufacturing have made it possible to create entire structures with 3D printers, and in the near future, it may be possible to 3D-print entire rockets.  

Aerospace company Relativity Space has nearly achieved this with its reusable Terran R rockets, which are manufactured out of mostly 3D-printed structures and parts. By using additive manufacturing technologies to build rockets, Relativity Space estimates it can turn all the raw materials into a finished rocket in 60 days — a significant improvement over using traditional manufacturing methods.

Relativity Space’s new 3D printer is helping the company meet this accelerated production timeline by printing horizontally instead of vertically. This allows the printer to manufacture parts seven times faster than the previous generation of printers. And with additive manufacturing technologies becoming more accessible to aerospace manufacturers of all sizes, even more aerospace components will be manufactured using 3D printers.

To learn more about additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry, attend AeroDef.