Coronavirus pandemic has disrupted the global supply chains and has left the world vulnerable to severe shortage issues. It has already crippled many industries that were completely dependent on international supply chains and affected their home countries.
Every country in the world is, right now, looking inward to suffice their needs and requirements. This will only burden the existing infrastructure as it is not designed to produce and sustain such a demand. Even when the world returns to the new normal, the industries will not be the same, and only those who look to innovate their approach and processes will survive the new world and thrive in it.
The aviation industry has had the biggest impact of all from the COVID-19 crisis resulting in a complete shutdown. Experts fear that the sector is in jeopardy and its survival is at stake. While they demand multiple packages from their respective governments to save the industry, that alone will not save the industry. It is also the responsibility of those within the industry to revisit their approach of doing business and rapidly implement efficient systems.
Areas such as procurement of raw materials, production, and the supply chain should be focused upon to save costs and shorten supply chains and at the same time reduce dependence on multiple suppliers to run the production processes.
Some farsighted aviation industry veterans are better placed considering their investment in one important technology – Additive Manufacturing (AM). They believe, that AM has the potential to not only cut costs across the entire supply chain but also make the supply chains more efficient than ever before. It is a technology that can truly revive the industry and pull it out of the distress to bounce back strongly.
We explore ways in which the aviation industry can implement additive manufacturing technology to create a significant amount of value.
AVIATION INDUSTRY: IMPLEMENTING ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING TECHNOLOGY
- Mini-Factories in the Hangar
Professional quality additive manufacturing systems are now available in all sizes like desktop, benchtop, and even large formats. These systems can work efficiently to rapidly manufacture high-performance tooling, replacement, or end-use parts used in the maintenance of the planes right in the hanger. The mini-factories can even service occasionally arriving planes and whose spare parts are not stocked. Spare parts for such planes can be rapidly 3D printed right on-site thus saving crucial time and money. It drastically reduces the dependence on supply chains.
Etihad Airways Engineering has partnered with BigRep, a large-format 3D printer manufacturer, to deploy their 3D printers in Maintenance, Operations, and Repair Facility at the Etihad home base in Abu Dhabi.
- In-House Quality Control
With additive manufacturing systems in place, a lot of parts previously outsourced can be brought in-house. For critical sectors like defence, important parts can be brought in-house and strictly quality controlled. This will also help in reducing the costs by eliminating the middle-men, eliminating the supply chains for the selected parts, and also eliminating the supply chain costs & time lags.
More importantly, AM can also help manufacture customised jigs & fixtures, marking out and cutting tools, and maintenance parts to improve the production or assembly efficiency and produce a faster output. It can also produce tools like drill guides & test gauges to control and maintain the high-quality standards of the aviation industry.
- Single-Part Capability
The aviation industry is guided by a low volume principle and parts are always required to be manufactured in smaller batches unlike other mass-production industries here the minimum quantities range between lakhs.
This makes the production of parts pretty costly and the industry is not able to take advantage of the economies of scale. This is the ideal situation for additive manufacturing to step-in. Additive manufacturing can help produce one-off parts at costs similar to what it would cost for the 100th part.
- Flight-Ready Parts
A lot of companies have qualified the 3D printers, materials, the processes, and even certain parts that can be 3D printed to be used in a commercial or military flight. This can be leveraged and such parts can be easily eliminated from stocking and just digital files are stored. These can be 3D printed whenever required. This saves a huge warehousing cost, maintenance costs, saves time.
BigRep, EOS, Renishaw, Velo3D are some of the 3D printer manufacturers who have collaborated with companies from the aviation industry to qualify parts, processes, or materials for use in flights or use in maintenance activities.
BENEFITS OF ADDITIVE MANUFACTURING TO THE AVIATION INDUSTRY
- Short Product Development Cycle
Additive manufacturing is known for its capability to rapidly manufacture complex industrial-grade parts. It can eliminate tooling and significantly reduce the entire manufacturing workflow. The entire supply chain can be shortened and parts can be manufactured right at the point of its use.
- Part Consolidation & Lightweighting
The poster child of the additive manufacturing technology – the GE LEAP engine fuel nozzle is one of the greatest success stories of the technology for the aviation industry. Previously, the GE nozzle comprised of 20 different pieces welded together but additive manufacturing could consolidate the nozzle into a single part. This is one of the greatest advantages AM can impart to the aviation industry.
Part consolidation not only leads to simplification of manufacturing but also helps in reducing the weight of the parts and ultimately of the entire system. The compounded effect is visible on the fuel efficiency, the system durability, reliability, and business efficiency with increased profits. This benefit of the AM technology can be leveraged to reduce costs and run the current systems more efficiently.
- Leveraging Specialised Materials
Some materials like titanium (Ti6Al4V to be exact) used in the aviation industry offer significant benefits to the flight systems. But titanium is an expensive material. Moreover, it is difficult to machine leading and complex design can further increase its production time and costs. But additive manufacturing brings efficiency to the production process as such an expensive material is used judiciously with negligible wastage. AM can also manufacture generatively designed parts to further reduce material usage and improve performance. This can also save a lot of costs.
- Value Addition
Additive manufacturing can impact the product development cycle by adding value to each part of the supply chain. Right from design & prototyping to its production at the plant level and even for after-sales support, additive adds value to the entire process.
- Reduced Warehousing Costs
The additive manufacturing of replacement parts has a direct impact on the need for stocking of parts. By carefully identifying and qualifying replacement parts that can be manufactured through 3D printing, a huge assortment of parts can be produced on-demand. This reduces the load on the warehouse to stock fewer items. This simply means that the company can save costs on warehousing, reduce the warehouse size, and reduce the manpower & other systems needed to monitor the same.
- Time & Cost Savings
All the above-mentioned benefits one way or the other result in immense time and cost savings. The current crisis has put an added onus on time and cost-saving initiatives and additive manufacturing can deliver the results as are the need of the hour right now.
Additive manufacturing is a natural fit for the aviation industry due to the huge impact it can have on the weight of the products leading to improvement in the overall system efficiency and ultimately resulting in cost savings or higher profits. The technology becomes all the more essential, especially at a time where the pandemic is becoming a part of our life. Companies will have to make necessary changes in business models and manufacturing processes to ensure the company and the overall industry survives and additive manufacturing can pave the way into the ‘Post-COVID-19’ world.
About Manufactur3D Magazine: Manufactur3D is an online magazine on 3D printing. which publishes the latest 3D printing news, insights and analysis from all around the world. Visit our 3D Printing Education page to read more such informative articles. To stay up-to-date about the latest happenings in the 3D printing world, like us on Facebook or follow us on LinkedIn.