Recent advancements in additive manufacturing (AM) have allowed the technology to move from simple prototyping using plastics to creating fully formed metallic components that can be integrated into modern aerospace systems. AM presents a revolution in traditional manufacturing methods by removing the limitations of traditional casting subtractive manufacturing processes. AM provides designers and engineers the freedom to create parts that not too long ago would have been considered either too costly or nearly impossible to machine. Consequently, the adoption and expansion of AM in the aerospace industry is leading to new structural concepts as well as a re-evaluation of established part design.
The 2014 Wohlers Report found that the AM market reached $3.07 billion in 2013, representing a 34.9% growth rate, the highest growth rate in 17 years. And over the past 26 years, the average growth rate in worldwide revenue from AM was 27% . In 2013, the McKinsey Global Institute released a report naming AM as among the technologies most likely to transform the world . Without a doubt, AM is quickly becoming a strong segment of the manufacturing economy on a global scale; however, market penetration of AM products, specifically in aerospace markets, is limited by the lack of robust and mature inspection and validation technologies compared to traditional subtractive manufacturing parts.
Recently, NASA has been promoting the development of AM as a tool for the next generation of space flight. In fact, astronauts aboard the International Space Station (ISS) have already begun printing parts, such as threads, springs, clamps, buckles, and containers using a 3-D ABS printer . The use of 3-D printing in space overcomes a large logistics hurdle, removing the need to be reliant on launch facilities on Earth and the requisite launch window opportunities and risks associated with supplying replacement parts to astronauts aboard the ISS. But more than just replacing a broken screw, NASA wants to push for even more AM in space, which could remove size and weight restrictions placed on satellites and structures built on the Earth. read more
Article from DSIAC – Defense Systems Information Analysis Center