What is the future of additive manufacturing in aerospace?

Although additive manufacturing isn’t new, it’s only relatively recently that the technology has become advanced enough that it can be used within the aerospace industry.

Additive manufacturing has the potential to provide significant benefits in the aerospace industry, some of these include:

  • Reducing costs 
  • Design freedom - AM can create complex geometries not possible in other manufacturing applications
  • Weight reduction which can lead to reduced greenhouse gas emissions. Designs such as internal cavities and lattice structures reduce weight without compromising mechanical performance
  • Shorter time to market - AM helps companies quickly build prototypes thereby accelerating design cycles
  • Less waste materials
  • On-demand production
  • Increasing efficiency - AM offers the flexibility to design and test products as many times as required, helping reduce risk and improve product functionality.

Additive manufacturing cannot make every part, but it does provide an exciting opportunity to consider viable alternatives, complementing or replacing traditional manufacturing processes. However it does need to be considered early in the development process. Knowledge also needs to be installed into the aerospace design teams to ensure AM is utilised effectively.

Initially additive manufacturing was used for prototyping and tooling applications, however, in recent years, AM has seen a growth in end to end production. A report by Deloltte University Press suggests that the future of AM in aerospace could lead to:

  • Embedding additively manufactured electronics directly on parts
  • Printing aircraft wings
  • Printing complex engine parts
  • Printing repair parts on the battlefield.


What are the challenges of additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry?


Currently the challenges faced by the AM industry are associated with size and scalability, high material costs, narrow range of materials, limited multi-material printing capabilities, and consistency of quality. (Deloltte 3D opportunity in Aerospace and Defense - Additive Manufacturing Takes Flight). Companies are also working to improve the build speed to support bulk production needs. Additive manufacturing currently uses a narrow range of polymer and metal powder to manufacture parts, but the costs of these materials are higher than that of materials used in traditional manufacturing methods.

Certification is a major challenge for additive manufacturing companies in the aerospace market. Critical components are normally made with metals, which require strict assessment in order to get certified. AM can be used to redesign these components therefore reducing the weight, improving functionality and performance. However, the certification process involves demonstrating the quality of the part plus the consistency and repeatability of the production process. This is a time consuming, expensive process. But it is about risk, so companies have been focusing largely on redesigning the non-critical parts with an emphasis on reducing the supply-chain pressures.

The quality assurance and certification obstacles have been reviewed in an article published in the Journal of Aeronautics & Aerospace Engineering called “Additive Manufacturing for the Aircraft Industry”. In this review the authors stated “It is evident from this review that additive manufacturing has a significant role to play in the aircraft industry, the full utilisation of which will only be realised when the technology standards are fully developed.” 
The research team also stated that these further points need to be addressed to ensure a bright future for additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry:

  • Closer evaluation of the physics of the AM processes
  • Failure mechanisms and the characteristic material anomalies
  • Comprehensive material-process-structure-property relationships 
  • Industry specifications database and AM materials and processes standards
  • AM component design guidelines and rulemaking
  • Post processing methods and part quality enhancement 
  • Monitoring and testing strategies for AM.

Standards: once set, if the machine manufacturer changes the software function, the standard needs retesting. This is a major issue that needs to be addressed.

To find out more on how 3T work within the aerospace industry please contact Luke Rogers



Journal of Aeronautics & Aerospace Engineering
Additive Manufacturing for the Aircraft Industry: A Review Sarat Singamneni1 *, Yifan LV1 , Andrew Hewitt2 , Rodger Chalk2 , Wayne Thomas2 and David Jordison2 1 Department of Aerospace Engineering, Auckland University of Technology, Auckland, New Zealand; 2 Department of Aerospace Engineering, Air New Zealand, New Zealand


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