3D printing or additive manufacturing, which has been mentioned quite a lot in recent years, is giving rise to an evolution in the manufacturing processes of different sectors like, for example, jewellery, odontology, the automobile industry and, as was to be expected, the aeronautical or aerospace industry.
It has mainly been used for the creation of prototypes given its speed and low cost, along with the ease it provides to design without any of the constraints laid down from the standpoint of conventional manufacturing. Seeing as it involves a layer-by-layer construction process from the inside that optimises the product’s manufacture at each moment, some intermediate stages can be eliminated, and the product can be made in less time. This allows one to adjust prices significantly. In view of the multiple advantages this type of manufacturing offers, it has quickly attracted attention for other new functionalities, allowing new efficiencies to be generated in manufacturing processes.
For example, some specialised drones currently exist that were built through additive manufacturing and tailor-made for use in agricultural tasks. These drones are manufactured in plastic materials, taking into account features like high resistance and low weight. If necessary, they are finished by adding other parts to gradually take on the shape required by the design conceived to fulfil their purpose.
3D Printing may be of use at times when a set of tailor-made tools and equipment is needed like, for instance, in military operations and campaigns, aerospace voyages, etc. It is also useful to make obsolete but necessary parts to repair machines that cannot be found under any other circumstances. The stock invested in repairs can therefore be done away with, thereby reducing replacement part costs for maintenance tasks, for instance.
The main aims of additive manufacturing are to reduce timescales and eliminate design constraints dependent on production methods. Since it involves layer-by-layer manufacturing rather than manufacturing from a block of material, it allows one to create diverse geometries that would otherwise be impossible to achieve through other conventional methods. One can therefore attain a much lighter structure that may even dispense with the need for assembly. Many tools and additional parts that are currently used will therefore not be necessary, and neither will there be a need to set up assembly lines for them. Delivery times will thus be much shorter.
As it is a constructive manufacturing technique, the loss of material in production is also reduced, bringing with it consequent savings in raw materials. These characteristics should be taken into account to reduce industrial costs.
The aeronautical industry requires any supplier to meet two essential requirements, efficacy and safety, thereby promoting the performance of repetitive, traceable and efficient tasks having the minimal tolerances possible. 3D printing or additive manufacturing allows repeatable parts of uniform quality to be created. Multiple advantages can thus be achieved when creating parts due to its low cost and ease of design. These parts are not so much structural parts but rather interiors geared at aircraft interior customisation and conditioning. It is therefore a good candidate to enter into the aeronautical parts manufacturing market.
The development and properties of metal components for elements manufactured through traditional methods are currently being analysed in depth, as is their possible adaptation for production through additive manufacturing by using powdered materials and their joining together by laser.
It should also be taken into account that 3D printing does not always offer advantages when compared to traditional manufacturing. The first which comes to mind is the loss of jobs. This kind of manufacturing itself and the possibility of dispensing with traditional machinery and methods could involve a reduction in the labour force needed for manufacturing. Moreover, being able to so easily replicate copyrighted objects could lead to copyright violations. Lastly, the ease of gaining access to this kind of manufacturing due to the fact that the personal use of 3D printers is not regulated could give rise to its malicious use, with the danger involved in the possibility of, for instance, replicating weapons in an uncontrolled way.
In spite of all this, additive manufacturing still has a long way to go and we will gradually discover its new applications and fields of use, taking advantage of the versatility offered to us by this production method.