- 31 October 2018
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You only need to look at an airplane seat belt buckle for proof that additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, is set to revolutionize the aerospace and defense (A&D) industry.
Switching from a conventional buckle to a 3D-printed buckle can cut 55% off the weight, or 160 pounds total, from an Airbus 380. Over the lifetime of the plane, this lighter buckle can save 872,000 gallons of fuel — roughly $2.3 million in costs.
Market analysts expect A&D investment in AM to increase by high double-digits annually through 2024. It’s easy to see why, considering what AM has already enabled manufacturers to accomplish and how much it promises for the future.
As A&D moves further into Industry 4.0, keep your eye on these four developments in additive manufacturing.
1. Solving Production Breakdowns
A&D manufacturing has a constant need for replacement tools, but producing them is expensive, time-consuming, and limited by production capabilities.
The British firm GKN Aerospace is solving these issues by using AM to “print” tools in a matter of hours, instead of spending weeks to machine them. Since the tools are available so quickly, there is less wait time for maintenance and fewer delays due to downtime. The AM process ensures that every tool is consistently identical, and allows for complex geometries and cavities that would not be possible with other production processes.
Using AM supported by ERP enables A&D manufacturers to stay one step ahead of equipment failure by using predictive analytics to manage a maintenance schedule. An ERP system tracks the real-time performance of machinery, so you can carry out predictive maintenance before a sudden failure occurs. When combined with the rapid part replication capabilities of AM, maintenance becomes quick and effective, preventing costly equipment downtime and allowing companies to schedule routine maintenance in a consistent manner.
2. Producing Large-Scale Parts
Thus far, AM has largely been used to print small and highly-detailed parts. This is changing now that newer printers can tackle much larger objects — the Department of Energy has printed objects as large as 13-feet long and 8-feet tall.
There is also the potential to combine two printing materials into one object. Using AM to produce something like over-sized aerospace components can translate to huge costs savings and performance improvements.
In order to realize these benefits, manufacturers must have an ERP system in place to integrate new and old production processes. An ERP system keeps your data streamlined and in one centralized location for all key staff members to see. Updates are immediately applied across the platform — including any changes to production processes — so you won’t have to scramble to stay on top of your new initiatives.
3. Handling High-Volume Production
AM initially had the most impact in prototyping, but is quickly moving to the production side of the equation. BAE Systems was the first aerospace manufacturer to use a 3D printed part (a cockpit radio cover) in an actual production model, and since then, the technique has become ubiquitous and more accessible to the average aerospace manufacturer.
In 2016, GE began using AM to produce fuel nozzles for jet engines. The nozzles are 25% lighter and made using one part instead of 18. The engines have proven so popular that GE has received 10,000 orders for these engines — a value of over $140 billion.
As AM moves into large-scale production processes, advanced ERP software will be crucial for handling the transformation without creating a disruption to business. A robust ERP system can process, store, organize, and track vast amounts of data in real-time. Modern ERP solutions help aerospace manufacturers manage compliance with regulatory bodies, a process that’s particularly complex when exploring AM as a new production method.
By integrating with IoT and third-party systems, ERP also gives manufacturers full visibility over their entire supply chain and their internal production processes, helping companies manage the organization-wide digital transformation needed to embrace AM. With the data management and analysis capabilities of ERP, you can ensure smooth and data-driven processes as you move into higher-volume AM.
4. Entering the Engine
A fully 3D-printed engine has been a dream of designers since the advent of this technology. Developers in New Zealand created a titanium internal combustion engine made entirely through AM, and at least 4 working jet engines have been built using other additive processes.
Building an entire engine using AM lowers the overall weight and cost of the product, and opens numerous opportunities for customization, making it easier for aerospace engineers to create custom builds and experiment with innovative new designs.
It’s still too early to call AM a must-have technology for A&D companies, but it’s clearly headed in that direction. AM directly solves some of the biggest challenges in complex manufacturing, but only when it’s paired with the right ERP software. Together, these technologies turn data into designs and then into processes that make production more efficient and consistent.
If you’re ready to embrace AM and overtake the competition, start by evaluating your ERP. At Cre8tive Technology & Design, we draw from decades of experience in A&D manufacturing and engineering to implement the right ERP system for your continued success. Contact us today and speak to our experts about the ERP system that will keep your A&D company ahead of the curve and allow you to embrace AM as it becomes more accessible for manufacturers of all sizes.