Additive manufacturing is a manufacturing method that is used across many industries and has proven particularly useful in the aerospace sector. At Addaero we believe that there are three reasons why you would use the technology: low volume, high complexity, or long lead time. The aerospace industry has all three of these challenges – making it a natural fit for the process. Most of our business at Addaero is focused on aerospace and people often ask us, why is it any different than rapid prototyping? Is there any difference between additive manufacturing for aerospace and everything else? In a word, absolutely.
The cost of products in the aerospace industry is often in the hundreds of millions and occasionally in the billions for specific defense applications. The failure of aerospace products can result in a catastrophic loss of life – which means that product materials, manufacturing process, and quality must be known before the product goes into service. As an example, a large commercial aircraft can cost over $300 million dollars and is expected to carry hundreds of passengers daily for over 20 years with no issues. This drives aerospace companies to make sure they know everything they can about material or process before it goes into service.
Aerospace additive manufacturing differs from rapid prototyping in that while the latter market is dictated by lead times, the former is driven by part quality to establish consistency. Over the past few years, Addaero has focused on four key areas to ensure high-quality parts can be produced via additive manufacturing: Powder Management, Build Setup, Build Themes, and Machine Maintenance. We will highlight a few key areas in this blog to give readers a better idea of what is required to produce high-quality components.
One of the critical areas for performance of the products is the management of your material feedstock. From the original order to the final part being built the material must be tested and tracked throughout the lifecycle. For traceability, Addaero will track every run on the powder and every time additional material has been added to ensure full traceability from cradle to grave. Addaero routinely performs chemistry tests throughout the powders lifecycle to ensure compliance with aerospace standards.
Machine Setup and Maintenance:
Addaero has learned that for the user to obtain repeatable results the machine must be kept in top performance. In addition to keeping the machine maintained, standard procedures, checklists, and records must be kept and followed for every setup and maintenance action to ensure that there is full traceability.
Paperwork Sells Parts:
One of the most critical areas in producing high quality, consistent parts is documentation of everything performed. For either production or development work, the company must ensure that all maintenance, builds, materials, post processing and inspections are fully documented for presentation. As shown in the picture, each aerospace quality part ships with its own package of paperwork.
Additive manufacturing for the aerospace industry is not as simple as a two-step print and ship operation. As more and more aerospace OEM’s become comfortable using the additive process in their critical applications, the supply base needs to become aware of these challenges before getting into the business. Companies like Addaero and others have successfully proven that by adopting a quality focused mindset allows companies to provide additive manufacturing for the most extreme environments with the confidence the parts will perform far into the future.