Printed Airplane Parts
China's AVIC Heavy Machinery has produced what it claims to be the world's largest titanium aircraft part critical to an aircraft's structure printed from a 3D printer -- and with massive cost savings. The part, displayed at the 16th China International High-tech Expo, fits a J-20 or J-31 stealth fighter. According to the company, the titanium alloy structural part costs $212,000 to produce through 3D laser direct manufacturing, versus $1.3 million through traditional methods. China's C919 passenger jet, which is expected to enter service in 2016, will incorporate a five meter-long titanium printed wing spar. The company also made bold claims about the potential benefits of printed parts in U.S. military aircraft.
The company also postulated that if titanium parts in American F-22 Raptors were built with printed (instead of forged) parts, they could see a weight savings of roughly 40 percent. It says that compared with conventional techniques, savings could reach 90 percent of materials and costs. Parts produced through the 3D printing process allow for more efficient component design optimized for both strength and weight savings, the company says. The process is not without its critics regarding the application of printed parts as structural components. Historically, forging is considered to produce a stronger part. AVIC's 3D printing technology can produce parts using titanium alloy and high-strength steel. It has been used to create parts in at least seven aircraft designs and those parts have served in load-bearing capacities. In the U.S., GE has started to develop manufacturing processes for jet engine fuel nozzles. The parts are expected to be 25 percent lighter and five times stronger than traditional parts. The nozzles are expected to appear in GE LEAP jet engines, which hold 19 nozzles each.