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A More Efficient Way To Make Aircraft Parts With 3D Printing

3D Printing Is A More Efficient Way To Make Aircraft Parts

You would be probably familiar with cost-saving initiatives especially if you are in the manufacturing sector. Whether they are periodic Kaizen events or an everyday management expectation, you know the pursuit of lower cost is never-ending. This resulted in the adoption of 3D printing.

However, making real improvements can be challenging. Once the low-effort savings are achieved, new ideas to make the operation more
efficient might seem elusive. That propelled the popularity of 3D printing.

That is where new technology, or a new way of doing things can help. A case in point is Piper Aircraft. The company turned to 3D printing technology to make aircraft parts — to reduce lead time and material waste to make aluminum components.

Where It All Began

3D printing is an additive technology that creates things by building them layer upon layer, using material only where it is needed. Contrast that with subtractive manufacturing, where a part is made by cutting, milling and shaping the raw material, a lot winds up as waste.

Taking the concept of 3D printing further, Piper uses hydroforming to produce hundreds of structural aircraft parts such as the inner frames, gussets, brackets and skins. In the past, the company machined aluminum form tools for use in hydroforming machines to make these parts.

Machining the geometrically complex tools was expensive due to the amount of CNC programming time required for every part. The high cost of machine time and skilled CNC operators coupled with considerable material waste involved in machining added even more cost. That added to the challenge of producing aircraft parts — which explained why 3D printing was adopted.


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