The wide-ranging possibilities of additive manufacturing are particularly well suited for the aerospace industry. Weight-optimized parts, for example, have a positive effect on the overall mass of your aircraft. Flow-optimized parts improve the performance of rocket and aircraft engines. In addition, hydraulic components can be designed to be much more efficient, creating advantages not only within the part itself, but also in conjunction with the overall system. Development times for prototypes can be reduced and downtime minimized by the availability of spare parts. In this way, additive manufacturing can be of great importance to you, especially when conventional manufacturing processes reach their limits because of component complexity or when time plays an overriding role due to the associated costs.

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Additive manufacturing in space travel

While the story of space travel began with achieving the impossible and exploring outer space, nowadays it is more about observing the earth, conducting research on the effects of weightlessness, and improving navigation and telecommunications. Money was originally no object, because the focus was on the spirit of discovery. Things are different today. Production and operating costs have to be cut, while simultaneously increasing payload capacity. Both can be achieved with the help of additive manufacturing technologies. The increased design freedom makes it possible to create weight-optimized geometries for structural components. At the same time, the functionality of flow-dependent components – such as those found in engines or heat exchangers can be optimized. The small production runs involved and the rapid reaction times also make additive manufacturing technologies the ideal choice for space travel. Collaborating with our partners allows us to identify a number of different issues and challenges and incorporate them into productive research projects. Fraunhofer IAPT is also extensively involved in the Aviation Research Program (LuFo) run by the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi) and in ESA projects. The project partners from the aerospace industry include Airbus, Liebherr Aerospace, Premium AEROTEC, GE Additive, the German Aerospace Center, OHB Systems, and many more besides.

Additive manufacturing in aviation

The potential for additive manufacturing in aviation is huge and will also continue to grow in the future. There will be significant challenges in the areas of Industry 4.0, quality assurance, and design over the coming years. Together with you, we will confront these challenges and support you with new and
innovative development approaches as we master them. Fraunhofer IAPT has been a strategic partner to Airbus for over ten years, as it manages change processes for additive manufacturing. Our key areas of expertise here include optimizing topology, integrating parts and functions, processing new materials, and cutting production costs. We have been able to continuously improve our expertise in the field of component design thanks to diverse research activities involving design guidelines and new design methods. Our knowledge went into producing perhaps the best-known part ever made using 3D metal printing, the so-called Airbus A350 FCRC bracket. Other examples include the A380 fuel connector and the helicopter bell crank. In 2014, we devised a customized training program for our partners, aimed at teaching company employees the theory and practice of 3D printing. Fraunhofer IAPT is now regarded as a pioneer in this field and has trained over 1,200 engineers and skilled personnel at its Additive Academy – 600 of them in the aerospace industry alone.

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