While technology hasn’t quite mastered the art of the dematerializing transporter used in “Star Trek,” engineers have figured out how to reliably transmit an object from conceptual digital space into a physical reality. The new developments of 3D printing and the forward-looking innovations of the aerospace industry go hand-in-hand, enabling computer modeling of sleek components to become aerodynamic realities. This partnership has massively positive connotations for the future of airborne travel both in Earth’s skies and beyond, and it’s all possible due to technology that wasn’t even conceivable only a scant decade ago.
Walls and Widgets
Additive manufacturing, a style of 3D printing that “builds” a piece using a medium instead of carving it out, has been very successful for companies like McFarlane Aviation, according to industry website 3Ders.com. In McFarlane’s sizable warehouse, important components like fuel nozzles and cabin-wall partitions come together, bespoke-style, for both major airlines and airplane manufacturers. The additive-manufacturing method they use invites unprecedented flexibility to the process, a true boon for the always-under-construction flight industry. Imagine the ability to print a beta-test model of cabin design for customer feedback without committing a fleets’ worth of material contracts. With this one-off manufacturing method, it’s a decidedly viable reality.
Printing Up Efficient Fuel Use
With costs from passenger tickets to dimensional air freight calculated on the price of airplane fuel, getting the most out of every drop is understandably vital. Thanks to GE’s inventive 3D-printed sensor housings, notes 3DPrint.com, airlines are getting a more detailed look than ever before at the performance of their engines. This data not only helps the current range of aviation engines achieve peak performance; it also informs future generations of better engine-design options as well. The result is more efficient fuel use at every stage, and hopefully lowered costs to pass on as well.
Seating Solutions on the Go
The problem with designing an airplane seat is that one person’s idea of “comfortable” may not mesh with another’s. Stratasys Direct Manufacturing notes that 3D printing may be the solution to aviation seat woes, both in design and turnover. By using additive manufacturing to design prototype plane seating, armrests and more, they can produce more with less materials while creating a more durable framework with ease. This method ensures not only a high-quality airline-seating solution from the start, but the company also gets a stress-free method to replace worn or broken components without slowing down an airplane’s scheduled flights.
What will the future hold for 3D-printed aerospace components? Provided that the facilities are large enough and teams perform enough testing, it’s not inconceivable that an entire 3D-printed plane may fly the skies in this generation. The key to making that high-flying dream a reality is support and collaboration between the additive-manufacturing industry and airplane manufacturers, both notoriously secretive when it comes to proprietary knowledge. With such a bright future at stake and so many steps already taken in the right direction, it may not be as steep a takeoff as a casual glance would suggest.