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Additive manufactured parts are learning to fly

News   •   Mar 15, 2018 12:55 CET

By Dr. Jörg Rissiek, Vice President - Head of Strategy and Portfolio Management, and Stephan Bloempott. Head of Additive Manufacturing Solutions, Satair Group

Satair Group sees huge potential over the next decade for a significant increase in the scope of economically and technically feasible parts produced by Additive Manufacturing (AM) - also known as 3D Printing - for the global aerospace materials market. We believe that AM-parts will be flying on all aircraft at the latest by 2027.

In the aircraft material services market the constant challenge is to marry requirements for on-time, on-quality spare parts supply for a continuously expanding aircraft fleet, against the fact that only a small share of all flying parts is ordered on a regular easily plannable basis. The major optimisation potential for Satair Group as a material integrator lies within the unscheduled and unplanned demands, often for slow-moving parts in Aircraft-On-Ground (AOG) situations.

Moreover, these parts may become very problematic if they have long manufacturing lead times. Such parts are typically highly customised, often out-of-production or requiring part-specific tooling/raw materials. Consequently, high non-recurring costs (NRC) in traditional manufacturing, caused typically by part-specific set-up cost and specific tooling such as injection or casting moulds are incurred.

This is where AM will transform this market for both plastic and metal parts by providing an innovative, highly flexible production system, eliminating the need for specific set-ups such as tooling and extensive machine programming. The business case for AM is further aided by the significant reduction of inventory and stock holding cost thanks to agile on-demand production.

Satair Group has already made this a reality for a range of flying parts and more than 100 AM maintenance tools which are now available for customers. While the portfolio for AM tooling is fairly mature, we see massive opportunities for flying parts.

On top of the growth fuelled by new serial parts and incremental development of Airbus’ aircraft families, Satair Group identifies three major drivers to significantly increase the market penetration of AM parts - while meeting the high standards for quality and reliability.

  • The first strategic driver is to streamline the re-design and certification of flying parts. This requires a new perspective on the certification process to make it more suitable for the spare parts business as opposed to the traditional major aircraft development and modification route. A lean, streamlined process upfront to minimise lead time for urgent customer orders is needed. Furthermore, a core group with specific skills to handle the impacts and requirements of a change in the design and manufacturing process to AM will need to be involved to shorten the critical certification time.

In addition, there is a need to harvest and use the data that is already available for engineers to support material and process qualifications for AM technology. New design rules, adapted stress calculations and a new way of calculating fatigue values are therefore under development. In addition, current projects in Airbus to streamline part approvals will reduce the certification cost in the short-term.

  • The second driver is to improve the efficiency and lower the costs of the printing process and post-processing technologies. The recurring costs of AM are driven by material and machine cost. The cost of raw materials, notably filament or powder material is much higher than for block material for a variety of factors. Still, work is underway by AM material suppliers to address these concerns.

More importantly, more efficient AM machines are under development by several manufacturers, including some that will combine printing and post-processing activities. Also the elimination of some process steps will significantly reduce processing time and cost. Furthermore, new start-up disruptive players in this market will have a dramatic impact on reducing costs.

  • The third strategic driver is increased specific demand – unlocking the potential for innovative customised parts which would not exist without AM. This is where increasingly airlines choose to adapt, individualise and customise their cabins to differentiate against competitors. This trend favours AM solutions because there is more flexibility in the cabin parts design, which will increase the variability and choices for the airlines. Therefore a strong growth of available AM parts in newly-designed and refurbished or upgraded aircraft cabins is expected.

We conclude that the technology is rapidly evolving and that the key developments are under way to push the main drivers for growth of AM in the aviation services market. This will unlock the true potential of Additive Manufacturing: a most successful future business in aviation services.

This AM analysis is a synopsis of the article Learning to Fly – How AM will Become a Most Successful Business in Aviation Services, written by Dr Jörg Rissiek, VP- Head of Strategy and Portfolio Management, Satair Group, Stephan Bloempott. Head of Additive Manufacturing Solutions Satair Group, and Florian Vennemann who manages major projects in Additive Manufacturing Solutions for Satair Group. The paper has been published in: Supply Chain Management Journal, issue III, November 2017, pages 7 – 11 and can be downloaded via https://www.ipm.ag/scm-ausgaben/

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