9 Latest Applications of 3D Printing in Aerospace in 2024

  • Updated: May 28, 2024

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Frank Lee

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3D printing has changed the way things are made since it was first invented. The aerospace industry has been one of the biggest beneficiaries from the start. Imagine a world where it’s easy to make things that are both complicated and light. This is the truth that 3D printing brings to aircraft, breaking the limits in terms of cost and design. This article details the newest and most exciting 3D printing uses. These uses are taking the aircraft industry by storm right now. Get ready to be amazed at how this technology is changing the flight industry in new and exciting ways.

1. 3D Printing in SpaceX Starship Launch

engine’s chamber and turbomachinery components of SpaceX SpaceX’s Starship, a next-generation spacecraft designed for missions to the Moon, Mars, and beyond, is at the cutting edge of aerospace innovation, with 3D printing technology playing an important role in its development. The Starship’s Raptor engines use metal 3D printing to create the engine’s chamber and turbomachinery components. This additive manufacturing process, known as Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), allows SpaceX to produce complex geometries that would not be possible with traditional manufacturing methods.

3D printing has a big advantage for the Raptor engines. That is, 3D Printing applications reduce the number of parts that need to be made. The main fuel valve of the engine, which used to be made up of more than one part, has been merged into a single 3D-printed part. This makes it easier to put together and also makes it more reliable and effective. SpaceX says that 3D printing has made the Raptor engine 30% lighter and dramatically cut the time it takes to make it compared to traditional methods.

SpaceX uses materials like Inconel, a group of austenitic nickel-chromium-based superalloys that can handle high temperatures and high pressures. Using 3D printing with Inconel to make cooling channels inside the engine parts that work as well as possible is important for controlling the heat that is made during launches and when the spacecraft comes back to Earth. Another area where 3D printing really shines is when it comes to the environment. Compared to subtractive manufacturing, 3D printing reduces waste by only using the right amount of material. SpaceX wants to be environmentally friendly, and the aerospace industry overall wants to be environmentally friendly.

3D printing was a big part of designing, developing, and building SpaceX’s Starship. Its increased efficiency, shorter wait times, and better engine performance have helped the company reach its high targets. As SpaceX keeps improving and expanding its 3D printing capabilities, it could change not only how it works but also how aircraft products are made as a whole.

2. 3D Printing in Tiangong-2 Satellite

Tiangong-2-Satellite-launch China’s space program has reached a major milestone with the launch of the Tiangong-2 satellite. This satellite utilize 3D printing technology in a unique way that improves its functionality and mission powers. One important way that 3D printing is used on the Tiangong-2 is to make fuel tanks. It is very important to keep the propellants in these tanks. These fuels are what the satellite needs to move around in space and stay put. A strong laser melts metal powders one layer at a time to make complex forms with great accuracy. A type of powder bed fusion called Selective Laser Melting (SLM) was used to make these tanks.

The SLM process made it possible to make fuel tanks with complex internal structures, such as honeycomb and lattice designs, which help reduce weight without affecting the strength of the structure. Tiangong-2’s 3D-printed fuel tanks are 30% lighter than tanks that were made the old-fashioned way. This is very important for a satellite like Tiangong-2 because every kilogram counts. This weight loss not only makes it possible to carry more stuff but also makes the satellite use less fuel, which extends its useful life.

The use of 3D printing also made the production process faster, cutting the time it took to make something from months to weeks. Being able to make prototypes quickly is very helpful for adapting quickly to changing mission needs and changing satellite designs. The level of precision achieved by the 3D manufactured high-quality parts on Tiangong-2 is unmatched by any other manufacturing method. High-resolution 3D printing methods can create parts with accuracy as low as ±0.1mm. This benefits the satellite’s position control system, which relies on the accuracy of the fuel tank and engine components.

It is clear that additive manufacturing has great application prospects in space exploration, as it performed so well in the Tiangong-2 mission. It shows how 3D printing can be used to improve mission skills, push the limits of satellite design, and pave the way for larger space programs. As China continues to pour money into research and development of 3D printing technology, the technology is likely to become more important for future space programs.

3. Composite Material 3D Printing in Aerospace

Composite-Material-3D-Printing The mixture of materials in 3D printing is a new way to make things. Composite material 3D printing is changing the aerospace industry because it can make complicated and light 3d printing end-use parts. With this technology, different materials, like carbon fiber or glass fibers, are mixed with a polymer base to make parts that are stronger and lighter than others. For example, the University of Nottingham did a study that showed 3D-printed composite parts can be up to 60% lighter than metal parts while still being just as strong.

In aerospace uses, this weight loss is very important because it directly means less fuel use and pollution. A report from MarketsandMarkets says that the world market for 3D printed composite materials will grow at a rate of 30.5% per year. It will rise from USD 324 million in 2020 to USD 1.3 billion by 2025. The need for faster prototypes in the development of new flight designs, as well as rising demand for aircraft that use less fuel, are driving this growth.

One of the best things about 3D printing composite materials is that they are easy to create. Manufacturers can change how the fibers are arranged inside the printed part to get the best mechanical qualities for a certain use. This level of customization is especially helpful for aerospace parts that need to be strong and stiff in some ways while still being flexible in others.

When you utilize 3D printing with composite materials, you can also reduce production time and prices. In the past, manufacturing composite parts required a lot of work, such as hand layering or autoclave drying, which took a long time and a lot of money. On the other hand, 3D printing is a more streamlined method that lets you make complicated parts directly in a single build process.

4. High-Fatigue-Resistant 3D Printed Titanium Alloy

3D-Printed-Titanium-Alloy High-fatigue-resistant 3D-printed titanium alloys are changing the aerospace business because they last so long and are so strong. The experts at the Worcester Polytechnic Institute made a titanium alloy that had 120% more fatigue life than alloys that were usually made. This improvement is very important for aircraft uses because parts are loaded and unloaded many times and need to be very resistant to fatigue cracking.

Electron Beam Melting (EBM), a 3D printing method, makes it possible to create internal lattice structures that spread stress more widely. This makes fatigue failure less likely. This technology also makes it possible to make parts in a near-net form, which reduces waste and the need for post-processing. A market study by SmarTech Publishing says that by 2028, the aircraft industry will have spent $5.6 billion on titanium 3D printing.

Delivery times for important parts have also been reduced by a large amount thanks to 3D printing titanium metals. Utilizing 3D printing, for example, a complicated metal part that would normally take months to make can be made in just a few days. This faster production schedule is great for the aircraft industry’s maintenance, repair, and overhaul (MRO) work. The parts of aircraft often need to be replaced quickly.

5. Aerospace Manufacturing: 3D Printing in Liquid Rocket Engine

3D Printed Rocket Motor Injector Three-dimensional printing is being used to make liquid rocket engines, which is a huge step forward in space power systems. This advanced manufacturing method works especially well for complicated and high-performance parts. Therefore, it has been a big part of making rocketry more reliable and efficient.

An excellent example of this is the use of 3D printing to make rocket engine injectors, which mix fuel and oxygen very precisely. Researchers at the University of Texas showed in a detailed study that 3D printing can cut the number of pump parts from hundreds to just one unit. This makes the manufacturing process easier, lowers the chance of failure at the point where two parts meet, and improves the engine’s overall efficiency. 3D printing can also be used to improve the complexity of the cooling ducts, which are very important for keeping the engine’s temperature stable. This leads to better thermal management and a longer engine life.

An article from the International Astronautical Federation (IAF) also said that 3D printed rocket engine parts can cut production time by up to 70% and costs by up to 50% compared to traditional methods. These savings are big for the aerospace business, where saving money and time is very important for missions to succeed.

6. Applications of 3D Printing in Zero One Space OS-X6B Rocket

OS-X6B-Rocket Zero One Space, a private Chinese aerospace company, made the OS-X6B rocket. It shows how 3D printing can be used to quickly plan and make spacecraft. After its first flight, the OS-X6B was a big step forward in the use of 3D-printed parts in flying systems.

In more detail, the rocket had an attitude control power system that was 3D printed built in. In the air, this helps keep the rocket upright and lets you move it around. Because the angle control system utilize 3D printing, it was possible to make parts with complex internal designs that make them work better while weighing less.
For rockets, this weight loss is very important because every kilogram saved can help increase the payload or lower the fuel use.

Zero One Space said 3D printing cut down on the time and money needed to make the OS-X6B rocket. The successful test flight of the OS-X6B with parts made with additive manufacturing shows that it is safe to use in space. What it also shows is how 3D printing could change the way jets are made by making them faster, more flexible, and cheaper. Space technology is getting better thanks to private companies like Zero One Space. This means that 3D printing will be used more to plan, test, and build the next generation of spaceships.

7. 3D Printing in Qiansheng-1 01 Satellite

3D Printing in Qiansheng-1 01 Satellite The Qiansheng-1 01 Satellite is a big step forward in satellite technology. It has a complex structure with more than a million point lattice elements, and each one has a minimum feature size of 0.5mm. The main construction of this satellite is innovative because it is the first structure in the world to be made operating 3D printed lattice materials.

The fact that the Qiansheng-1 01 Satellite was put into orbit and has been safe since then shows how far along 3D printing technology has come in the aerospace field. The technology has been given a development level of nine, which means that it has not only been tested in real systems but has also done its job well. This progress is very important for the future of spacecraft design because it gives us a safe and quick way to build complicated, light, and strong structures that are needed for space missions.

According to information given by the satellite’s creators, using 3D printed grid structures has made the satellite 20% lighter than it would have been using traditional building methods. This loss of mass is very important for the speed and cost-effectiveness of the launch. The satellite’s structural integrity has also improved by 15%, which is important for it to be able to handle the rough conditions of space journey.

8. 3D Printing in Rocket Engine Gas Generators and Combustion Chamber Components

3D Printing in Rocket Engine Combustion Chamber Components New 3D printing technologies have changed rocket engine part production, especially gas generators and combustion tanks.  The leader in this field, BLT (Bright Laser Technologies), has operated 3D printing to produce these important items more quickly and better.  When BLT uses Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS), a method that uses a powerful laser to fuse metal powders into a solid structure, these parts are much more complex and accurate than they were before.

The company said that using 3D-printed parts in a recent project cut the weight of a rocket’s gas engine machine by 20%.     The design freedom that 3D printing provides has directly led to this weight decrease.  This freedom allows the optimization of internal geometries for better performance.     The engine’s internal cooling channels, which are needed to handle high temperatures and pressures, were also rebuilt utilizing 3D printing to make them more thermally efficient and to make the engine last longer.

Operating 3D printing has also cut down on the time it takes to make things.  Using old ways to make these kinds of parts could take months, but 3D printing has cut that time down to just a few weeks.  This ability to make quick prototypes is very important for the aerospace industry’s quick development processes.  Furthermore, the cost savings associated with reduced material waste and streamlined manufacturing processes are significant, with some estimates suggesting up to a 50% reduction in production costs for certain components.

9. 3D Printing in eVTOL Engine

eVTOL-Engine Electric vertical take-off and landing (eVTOL) vehicles are about to change the way people get around cities by air, and 3D printing is a key part of making this happen. With the help of additive manufacturing, engineers are now making eVTOL engines. For these engines to work well, they need high-performance materials and careful assembly. This way, flights can be quick, quiet, and good for the environment.

At the forefront of this innovation, companies like Joby Aviation use 3D printing to make whole eVTOL engines and its level of detail and complexity can’t be matched by standard methods of production. By 3D printing the engine parts, engineers can improve the aerodynamics of the internal flow lines, which means the car uses less gas and puts out less pollution.

Furthermore, it has been said that 3D printed eVTOL engine parts can be 30% lighter than their traditionally made counterparts. This is a big advantage for flying range and cargo space. 3D printing also lets you make samples and changes quickly, which speeds up the process of making engines. This freedom is important for both new and old aircraft companies that want to make eVTOL cars.

A report from MarketsandMarkets says that from 2020 to 2025, the industrial 3D printing market in aerospace and defense will grow at a rate of 22.4% per year. This is proof of how important technology is getting in this area.

In conclusion, the use of 3D printing technology in airplanes has a lot of room to grow. All the time, tools and technology are getting better. Things like printer quality, speed, and materials used in airplanes are all getting better.

Standards and licenses are needed to make sure that everyone in the business world trusts and is safe. It’s getting more important to stay green and support long-term growth. 3D printing could help get rid of waste and make things better. Technology will improve over time, which will change how planes are planned and built.

FAQs

1. What is lead time in the 3D printing process?

Lead time is the amount of time it takes from submitting a design for manufacturing to receiving the final produce parts. With 3D printing, the lead time can be significantly reduced compared to traditional methods.

2. What is rapid prototyping and how does it benefit the applications of additive manufacturing?

Rapid prototyping is a technique used to quickly create a physical model or prototype of a part or product. It is a key process in the 3D printing process and enables faster iteration and testing of designs, enhancing the applications of additive manufacturing.

3. How is 3D scanning used in the context of additive manufacturing?

3D scanning involves capturing the physical shape of an object to create a digital model. This digital model can then be utilized for 3D printing custom extrusion nozzles or for reverse engineering existing parts.

4. What are the benefits of 3D printing for aerospace applications?

The benefits of 3D printing in aerospace applications include the ability to create complex geometries, reduce weight, and achieve faster production cycles. It also enables customizability and on-demand production of parts.

5. What is selective laser sintering and what are the advantages of this 3D printing process?

Selective laser sintering is a 3D printing technique that uses a laser to sinter powdered material, such as metal or plastic, layer by layer to create a part. The advantages of this 3D printing process include high precision, material versatility, and the ability to produce functional parts directly.

References

1. Cerelia. (2021, January 29). When Aerospace Meets Stratasys 3D Printing | Stratasys website. https://www.stratasys-china.com/stratasys-3d-da-yin
2. DScienceValley.(n.d.). From materials and processes to liquid rocket motors, TCT Asia Summit unlocks 3D printing to usher in a new era of aerospace! – 3D ScienceValley. http://www.3dsciencevalley.com/?p=36407
3. D Printing Technology Reference, & D Printing Technology Reference. (2021, November 14). 3D Printing in Aerospace: The Latest Application Examples. 3D Printing Technology Reference – Additive Manufacturing, Focus on Specialty. http://amreference.com/?p=16563
4. 3D Printing Technology “Into” Tiangong-2. (n.d.). https://www.creality.cn/news-747.html
Disclaimer
The articles on XMAKE’s platform are intended for informational purposes, reflecting our expertise in digital manufacturing. While we diligently ensure the accuracy of specialized data, some information may evolve. We respectfully advise readers to verify the details for their specific applications. XMAKE assumes no responsibility for the use of this content. Your understanding and compliance are appreciated.

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