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5 Barriers to Adopting Additive Manufacturing in Aerospace and Defense

  • 21 February 2018
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Categories: Aerospace & Defense

Additive manufacturing, a technology estimated to be worth $87 billion globally by 2020, has the enormous potential to revolutionize aerospace and defense (A&D) product development and supply chains. Also known as 3D printing, additive manufacturing can create localized, personalized, and flexible production.

Though it certainly sounds promising to any A&D executive, several barriers still exist that are hindering additive manufacturing from becoming the gold standard in production within the A&D industry.

1. Lack of Consistency

Additive manufacturing suffers from variability between runs, and from machine to machine. Currently, additive manufacturing can only provide a dimensional accuracy of ~100 micrometers and a positional accuracy of ~20 micrometers. The variability requires expensive scanning and inspections that lack strong statistical reliability.

Though technology is striving to keep up with the specific and rigorous needs of the A&D sector, more testing and implementation will be needed before additive manufacturing can become the cheaper, more advanced method of quality control that engineers dream of utilizing.

2. New Machines and Parts

In order to grow the additive manufacturing industry effectively, new 3D printers must have the capacity to compete with standard injection-molding and computer numeric control (CNC) machines in terms of consistency and yield. The industry must additionally develop thousands of new materials, all while keeping costs in competitive distance of injection-molding and CNC machines.

General Electric has risen to meet these challenges in their Aviation wing, creating fuel nozzles for their LEAP engine using additive manufacturing. As they developed their processes, they discovered that they could increase the feasibility of additive manufacturing by reducing development time and thinking in terms of systems instead of parts. The new heuristic has the added benefit of simplifying the supply chain. As GE’s additive technology leader Greg Morris describes, rather than using 855 parts for their advanced turboprop engine, additive manufacturing has shrunk the need to just a dozen parts. In turn, the amount of people involved in the process are lessened, and the logistics are dramatically shrunken to a more manageable level.

3. Further Education Needed

Beyond the materials and processes required, additive manufacturing still faces a shortage of human talent. Skilled and educated designers are needed to implement additive manufacturing, and finding (or training) these people takes time and money. Currently, the skill development programs for additive manufacturing lack structure throughout high school and college and even on to professional settings.

GE Aviation is one organization addressing the issue by sending several dozen engineers to intensive training classes on 3D printing — then sending those newly trained engineers to other GE businesses to collaborate with other engineers and designers.

While the skills and knowledge required for subtractive manufacturing and processes have been honed over centuries of use, additive manufacturing is still in its infancy and does not yet have codified and widespread standards to learn.

4. Outdated ERP Systems

As many manufacturers already know, a fully integrated ERP system is essential for vision and efficiency in a very complicated process. From new product development to data communication, the right ERP system is essential to managing a business.

As new technologies — including additive manufacturing — are developed, companies cannot afford to have an outdated ERP system tasked with project predictions, cost management, scheduling changes, supply chain visibility, recording the product lifecycle, and numerous other essential elements of the manufacturing process. Custom ERP software can vastly aid in the implementation of additive manufacturing, but A&D companies must invest in up-to-date and advanced ERP solutions first.

5. Compliance and Regulations

Compliance is an integral component of the A&D sector. Manufacturers already invest time and funds to stay up-to-date with standards for AS9100 compliance, DCAA, ITAR, and more. In order to embrace new technology in a heavily regulated sector, clear-line standards and regulations must be set for additive manufacturing. In conjunction with those regulations, organizations must be willing to pay for data libraries, testing areas, and increased protection of their proprietary assets.

Any data management tools or business application software introduced to aid the additive manufacturing process must be in compliance with ITAR regulations, to ensure data is protected against the risk of a security breach.

In December 2017, the FDA became the first United States agency to release official guidance to additive manufacturers, specifically medical devices in this instance. Though the 28-page document is not expected to be static or even technically binding, it does speak to quality requirements to help the nascent technology of additive manufacturing achieve broader acceptance in the marketplace.

Cre8tive Technology & Design offers ERP solutions that meet the specific needs of A&D manufacturers — supporting them in embracing additive manufacturing, increasing efficiency, and more. Get in touch with us today to talk about what we can offer your organization.

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