US Will Repair Planes Using 3D Printing

The U.S. Air Force plans to upgrade its aircraft using parts printed on a 3D printer. This will increase the speed of repair, as well as reduce the cost of parts.

What and How Aircraft Will Be Repaired?

The military department explained that they often need to replace a specific part of a plane and sometimes it needs to be recreated according to the lost molds, while it must exactly match the original parts. The circulation in these cases is very small ⏤ sometimes 2-3 parts are needed, which makes the production long and unprofitable. Therefore, the US Air Force decided to come up with a new approach for repairing aircraft.

Most often than not, this problem concerns the air forces, whose fleet was mainly created during the Cold War. The oldest aircraft C-5, B-52 and KC-135 have an average age of 40, 56 and 57 years. The average age of an Air Force aircraft is 23 years. Every quarter, the military branch receives 10 thousand requests for the production of spare parts.

Using 3D printing, we can produce many details: from the smallest to the largest. “Now, if we need two or three parts for the B-52,” the US Air Force said, “we can just pass this on to one of our printers, rather than wait months to get them from the factory.” Over the past few weeks, the Air Force has already printed thousands of such parts from metal, plastic, and carbon fiber.

A separate problem is a fact that many parts are removed from mass production in general. In this regard, the military has to pay impressive amounts to make an order. In such cases, manufacturers are not shy about increasing prices.

So, in the report of the inspector of the US Department of Defense, there is a case where the yield on one of the contracts for the supply of spare parts for the Pentagon exceeded 4000%.

New Technologies for Old Aircraft

It is the moment when industrial 3D printers should come to the rescue because they will avoid the need to re-establish the production line of obsolete parts. It can be simply copied and printed. The software will be responsible for everything.

"We need a new set of rules and a new business model for interacting with industry representatives so that old details do not become a deterrent in our readiness for war," said the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force.

As an example of such cooperation, the Stars and Stripes cites a contract with one of the units of the American company General Electric, thanks to which the US Air Force will be able to print parts for F-16 and F-15 aircraft on 3D printers.

The company will install equipment for printing directly in the repair stations of the Air Force and train military specialists in their use. In the future, the company will receive a fixed fee for each printed part, regardless of what kind of part it is.

3D Printing Technology of the Military Industry

3D printing has many military applications. Warlords around the world are working on the development of 3D printing technology, using 3D printing for prototypes, developing their factories and using technology in airplanes and other military vehicles. Many millions have been invested in 3D printing technology and many companies are ready to produce parts locally. Millions more were invested in the development of fundamentally new technologies. A 3D printing race is quietly developing between China and the United States. Many commanders and planners realized that three-dimensional printing is a technology with strategic and tactical implications.

As an example, JSF can have up to 800 parts made using 3D printing technologies (Joint Strike Fighter, Lockheed Martin F-35 Lightning). It encompasses high-temperature three-dimensional printing as well as multiple metal 3D printing. All of these have been applied for aviation for JSF. This is a huge step towards development and prospering for Lockheed. It is also a powerful trigger for the industrialization of 3D printing for aviation companies not named Boeing. It is worth to admit that Lockheed conquered many companies in using 3D printing for the aerospace industry. Although, Boeing had a huge operational result in getting parts on airplanes and prototyping faster. Some spyware allowed Lockheed to succeed, and it provided the company with much-needed experience in developing 3D-printed drones and aircraft parts.

3D printing technology in aviation contributes to saving weight. As a result, aircraft performance will increase dramatically and directly. You can also significantly reduce the number of parts, which will significantly reduce production time, storage, risk and upfront investments. You can iterate faster and lower costs at the same time.

Moreover, 3D printing technologies have been actively used in the manufacturing and creation of various aircraft. For instance, Airbus Helicopters has begun manufacturing door components for Airbus A350 aircraft using 3D printing technology.

It is noted that on the EOS M 400-4 3D printer, A350 aircraft door lock shafts are printed. Firstly, a 3D model of the part is created on the computer. Then the printer system proceeds with all the data which leads to layer-by-layer formation. The formation of the part from titanium powder begins by melting it and further sintering under the influence of a high-precision light laser. Thus, the layer-by-layer buildup of the part takes place until it is completely formed.

Using this method allows you to produce lighter parts, reduce production time, reduce the amount of industrial waste, and also come up with more complicated parts. Moreover, 3D printing can take the main stage in the project devoted to developing a concept of transformation from conventional aviation to an all-electric airplane . For example, a door lock shaft made on a printer is lighter and cheaper than the same part produced traditionally. The statistics say that it helps to save costs by 25% as well as make it lighter on 45%. Given that each A350 has about 16 such parts installed, using the 3D printing method in production will save about 4 kg of weight per aircraft.

The military will apply any available technology that is useful to them. 3D printing has the potential for quick and cheap military equipment than other processes. At the same time, the weight can be stored in the last part, and this part can be developed in a new way. 3D printing speeds up product development, saves money on new things and allows you to integrate functionality, parts, and assembly. Significant investments are being made worldwide in the development and certification of 3D-printed parts for the military.

That’s why in the United States, experts took a fresh look at aircraft repair and decided to resort to 3D-printing, which had already gained its mega-popularity around the world when replacing missing or broken parts.

“We need to find better ways for our planes to work as long as possible,” said the Assistant Secretary of State for Technology and Logistics. He added that if the replacement of one part cost an average of $ 8,500 in the past, then with the help of 3D printing the price dropped to $ 700.