Cost reduction: Since part production using Additive Manufacturing does not cause set-up and tooling costs, production costs are only incurred for the parts themselves, at the time they are manufactured. Even small production runs and one-off pieces do not cause added cost. In addition, system parts designed for optimum function can often be realized as a single part, simplifying assembly and quality assurance.
Lightweight design: Intelligent lightweight structures manufactured using laser sintering processes combine high strength with a weight reduction of 40–60%. The material savings translate into more flexibility in design and engineering. As a result, airplanes consume significantly less fuel and emit less carbon dioxide.
Toolless production: EOS industrial 3D printing technology enables maximum flexibility in production planning. In addition, toolless production processes require less energy and raw material than conventional manufacturing operations. Modified parts, upgrades and spare parts can be produced as needed, obviating the need for storage. Given the long service lives of airplanes, Additive Manufacturing processes yield clear cost benefits.
Certification of safety-critical 3D metal parts will also impose formidable challenges. “There’s no defined playbook for certifying additive flight hardware,” York notes. He says Eaton will have to work with incomplete certification standards that have been developed by regulators, and combine these with Eaton’s our own understanding of additive technologies and control to build an approach to certification.
Finally, Eaton must develop an economically workable strategy for ramping up production of additive parts from their limited initial volumes to full-scale commercial volumes. This is complicated by the fact that metal additive technologies are maturing so fast that much better methods can arrive long before high-volume production is attained. In each case, managers must weigh the benefits of using the latest technology against the costs of re-certifying and re-qualifying the part.
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Nevertheless, York has no doubts that this journey, with all its difficult choices, is worth it. He says there are simply too many potential gains, in reduced cost and in better part performance, available with additive manufacturing.
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