The Chinese aviation industry has revealed that its new-generation fighter aircrafts are using 3D printing technology as they provide significant and unprecedented advantages over traditional technologies. According to the leading developer, an aircraft with multiple 3D printed parts recently took its maiden flight.
3D printed parts have advantages such as high structural strength, light weight, long service life, low cost, and fast manufacturing and are gaining popularity around the world; however, China has decided to use it in its fighter aircraft programme.
Aircrafts are using 3D Printing Technology
Traditional processes could only do so much in the pursuit of building a strong aviation and aircraft manufacturing sector, and production could not keep up with the growing demand. And, in response to the increasing demands for new-type warplane development in terms of weight reduction, lifespan extension, cost control, and rapid response, the Aviation Industry Corporation of China Shenyang Aircraft Corporation decided to investigate new technologies. In this regard, the Luo Yang Youth Commando was formed to promote a breakthrough.
We are applying 3D printing technologies on aircraft on a large scale at an engineering level, and we are in a world-leading position.”– Dr. Li Xiaodan, Member of the Luo Yang Youth Commando, Shenyang Aircraft Company’s Craft Research Institute
The team is named after Luo Yang, the head of production for China’s J-15 carrier-based fighter jet, who died 10 years ago on November 25, 2012, of a heart attack caused by overwork after witnessing the country’s first-ever aircraft carrier landing tests involving the jet.
According to China Central Television (CCTV), the Luo Yang Youth Commando pioneered and completely mastered 3D printing technologies, also known as additive manufacturing, and has been using cutting-edge 3D printing equipment to produce components for China’s next-generation warplanes.
Dr. Li Xiaodan shared with CCTV that “3D printed parts were widely used on a newly developed aircraft that has made its maiden flight not long ago.”
“Compared with conventional manufacturing methods, which need to use rivets or welding to connect parts together, 3D printing builds an integrated part, which enjoys a higher structural strength, which also leads to a longer service life”– Song Zhongping, a Chinese military expert and TV commentator, told the Global Times
Zhongping added, “It also enables manufacturers to use no extra materials, which makes the part lighter, Song said. Another advantage is that 3D printing is fast, and parts can be quickly manufactured, which makes logistics support simpler and less costly.”
Shenyang Aircraft Company
The Shenyang Aircraft Company, a subsidiary of the state-owned Aviation Industry Corporation of China, is known as the “cradle of Chinese fighters,” having built the Chinese People’s Liberation Army’s (PLA) main combat warplanes ranging from the country’s first generation J-5 fighter jet to the modern J-15 carrier-based fighter jet and the J-16 multirole fighter jet.
It also created China’s second stealth fighter jet, the FC-31, which is now available for export and is expected to be developed further into China’s next generation carrier-based fighter jet.
3D printing technologies have now been implemented in major Chinese aircraft manufacturing factories, making China the first country to use such technologies on a large scale.
According to observers, this means that 3D printing technologies are being used in aircraft manufactured not only by Shenyang Aircraft Company, but also by other Chinese aircraft manufacturers.
Takeaways for India? A Manufactur3D View
The bottom line is simple and straightforward. Both recent advances, the use of 3D printing technology in aircrafts and its widespread deployment by China, are well known to Indian defence establishments. 3D printing has been around for four decades, and while some claim that adoption is still slow, technology is certainly capable of being employed in mission-critical environments such as defence, aviation, and aerospace.
India, too, must be at the forefront of this technology and adopt initiatives to support research and development in order to quickly use this technology in the defence sector. If China needed a decade of effort to reach this point, India will need at least the same amount of time, if not more, if it begins soon.
As previously stated, the takeaways are simple: start a deliberate plan/program to include 3D printing in new defence product innovations, stimulate 3D printing R&D in the defence industry, promote usage of the technology for repair and replacement, and take the initiative. Begin now or play the eternal catch up game.
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