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3D Printing in Aerospace Ares

3D Printing in Aerospace Ares

The aerospace industry's progress significantly influences living standards and national defense capabilities. UnionTech, as an exemplary company, takes on the responsibility of contributing to this vital sector through its advanced 3D printing technology. By leveraging its technological capabilities, UnionTech actively supports the development and advancement of the aerospace industry, aligning with broader goals of societal well-being and national progress.

3D Printing Applications in Aerospace

The integration of 3D printing technology in the aerospace sector brings forth several advantages. These include shortened research and development cycles for new aerospace equipment, improved material utilization, reduced manufacturing costs, and the capacity to repair and shape parts, ultimately extending the service life of aerospace components.

Aerospace manufacturing is integral to incorporating a nation's state-of-the-art technologies and serves as a key support sector for implementing national strategic plans, thereby influencing political standing. In this context, metal 3D printing technology stands out due to its substantial application benefits and service advantages within the aerospace industry. These advantages are particularly prominent in the following areas:



3D Printed Aerospace Aircraft Engine

Accelerated development timelines for novel aerospace equipment.

Aerospace technology is a symbol of national defense capabilities and political influence, driving intense global competition among nations. To maintain superiority in national defense, countries prioritize the rapid development of new weapons and equipment. Metal 3D printing technology plays a crucial role by substantially reducing the manufacturing process for high-performance metal parts, especially large structural components, eliminating the need for traditional molds and significantly shortening product development cycles.

Professor Daguang Li, an expert in the Department of Military Logistics and Military Science and Technology Equipment at the National Defense University, emphasized that, in the past, it took 10-20 years to develop a new generation of fighter jets. However, with the integration of 3D printing and other information technologies, a new fighter jet can now be developed in as little as three years. The technology's flexibility, performance, and rapid prototyping capabilities for complex parts, coupled with its ability to manufacture large-scale structural components, provide robust technical support for defense equipment production.

An exemplary application of metal 3D printing technology in aviation is the central flange component of China's large aircraft, the C919. This structural part, over 3 meters in length, is the world's longest aerospace structural component produced through metal 3D printing. Traditional manufacturing methods would require forging using a large-tonnage press, a time-consuming process with material waste. China previously had to order such large-scale structural parts from abroad, resulting in a life cycle exceeding two years. However, with metal 3D printing technology, the central flange strip was developed within approximately one month. The printed part met or exceeded forging standards, complying with aviation standards and significantly expediting the development of large aircraft in China. This case underscores the transformative impact of metal 3D printing technology in the aerospace sector.

Enhanced material efficiency, cost-effectiveness, and prudent conservation of valuable strategic resources.

Aerospace manufacturing predominantly relies on expensive strategic materials, such as titanium alloys and nickel-based superalloys. Traditional manufacturing methods often exhibit low material utilization rates, ranging from 2% to 10%, leading to significant waste, complex machining procedures, prolonged production times, and increased costs.

Metal 3D printing technology, being a near-net-shaping technique, requires minimal follow-up processing and achieves impressive material utilization rates exceeding 60% and, in some cases, surpassing 90%. This not only reduces manufacturing costs but also aligns with the country's strategy for sustainable development.

During a symposium held by the Chinese Academy of Sciences in 2014, Professor Huaming Wang from Beihang University highlighted that China could produce the glass window frame of the C919 aircraft cockpit within 55 days using 3D printing technology. In contrast, a European aircraft manufacturing company estimated a production time of at least two years, accompanied by a mold cost of two million US dollars. The adoption of 3D printing technology in China significantly shortened production cycles, enhanced efficiency, conserved raw materials, and substantially reduced production costs.

Structural optimization, weight reduction, stress distribution improvement, and extended service life.

Weight reduction constitutes a perpetual objective in the realm of aerospace weapons and equipment development, a pursuit critical for enhancing the flexibility of flight equipment, augmenting payload capacity, conserving fuel, and mitigating flight costs. Despite the prior maximization of weight reduction achieved through traditional manufacturing methods, further improvements have proven impractical.

The advent of 3D printing technology has revolutionized the optimization of complex part structures. This innovation facilitates the simplification of intricate structures while upholding performance requirements, resulting in tangible weight reduction. Moreover, structural optimization ensures an optimal distribution of stress within components, thereby diminishing the risk of fatigue cracks and extending overall service life. This technology affords precise temperature control through the design of intricate internal runner structures, optimized material selection, and the freedom to create intricate parts tailored to meet stringent usage standards.

A noteworthy illustration is exemplified in the context of the landing gear of a fighter plane, a pivotal component subject to formidable loads and impacts necessitating high strength and impact resistance. The application of 3D printing technology in manufacturing the landing gear of the American F16 fighter plane not only meets exacting usage standards but also touts an average lifespan 2.5 times longer than that of the original gear.

Part repair and forming.

Beyond its applications in manufacturing and production, the value of metal 3D printing technology is particularly pronounced in the realm of repairing high-performance metal parts, surpassing its significance in manufacturing. Indeed, the potential for utilizing metal 3D printing technology in repair applications exceeds its utility in the manufacturing domain.

A compelling example is found in the repair of high-performance integral turbine blisk parts. In traditional scenarios, the presence of damage to a blade on the disk necessitates the disposal of the entire turbine blisk, resulting in economic losses exceeding one million units of currency. However, by harnessing the layer-by-layer manufacturing capability inherent in 3D printing, the damaged blade can be treated as a distinct substrate. Employing laser three-dimensional forming on the affected area allows for the restoration of the part to its original shape, surpassing the performance requirements and even outperforming the properties of the base material. The controllability inherent in the 3D printing process ensures minimal negative impacts during the repair process.

Compared to other manufacturing technologies, repairing 3D printed parts is generally more straightforward and offers superior compatibility. In the repair processes associated with conventional manufacturing techniques, maintaining consistency in tissue, composition, and performance between the repair area and substrate proves challenging due to variations in manufacturing processes and repair parameters. This challenge, however, is mitigated when repairing 3D printed parts. The repair process can be considered an extension of the additive manufacturing process, facilitating optimal alignment between the repair area and substrate. This establishes a virtuous cycle in the part manufacturing process: low-cost manufacturing + low-cost repair = high economic benefit.

Synergy with traditional manufacturing technology.

Traditional manufacturing technology excels in producing large-volume shaped products, whereas 3D printing technology is better suited for manufacturing personalized or intricately structured components. By synergistically combining these technologies, their individual strengths can be leveraged, resulting in a more robust manufacturing process.

Consider, for example, situations where parts necessitate high surface quality but only average performance in the center. In such cases, traditional manufacturing techniques can be employed to produce the central-shaped components. Subsequently, laser stereolithography technology can be applied to directly fabricate surface components onto these central parts, achieving superior surface performance while meeting general requirements for the center. This approach streamlines the manufacturing process, reduces the number of steps involved, and saves production time. Such a complementary production strategy holds substantial practical value in part production and manufacturing.

Furthermore, when dealing with components featuring simple external structures but intricate internal configurations, using traditional manufacturing technology for the internal complex structures often leads to cumbersome processes and intricate post-processing steps, resulting in increased production costs and extended timelines. By utilizing traditional manufacturing technology for the external structure and 3D printing technology for the internal structure, near-net shaping is achieved, necessitating only minimal follow-up processes to complete the product manufacturing. This approach reduces the production cycle, cuts costs, and facilitates seamless integration between traditional and innovative manufacturing technologies, fostering effective communication and complementarity.

While aerospace remains the primary application field for 3D printing technology, it is essential to recognize that metal 3D printing has limitations and faces several challenges in its technical application. Currently unsuitable for mass production, high-precision requirements, and high-efficiency manufacturing, 3D printing encounters obstacles such as the high equipment costs that impede its widespread adoption in civilian fields. However, ongoing developments in material technology, computer technology, and laser technology are expected to decrease manufacturing costs, rendering 3D printing more economically viable for the manufacturing industry. As these advancements unfold, 3D printing will continue to illuminate the manufacturing landscape.

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