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The Quest to Maintain Consistency in AM Parts

Greg Reynolds
By Greg Reynolds Vice President of Additive Manufacturing, Stratasys Direct Manufacturing

Additive manufacturing’s (AM) benefits have long been known to the aerospace industry. Industry leaders, like Boeing, Airbus and GE, have led the charge in using the technology for production parts. They’ve figured out how to increase efficiency and enable on-demand production, while saving money, by incorporating AM into their production process.

Aerospace companies use the technology for its ability to enhance parts and components in a less time, build complex features with ease and remain cost efficient when compared to conventional manufacturing processes. The industry is predicted to not only continue its use of AM but increase the number and types of AM parts.

A challenge the AM and aerospace industries need to reconcile is the certification process of AM parts. Aerospace is highly regulated, and it imposes stringent mechanical requirements on its parts and components.

Every part that goes on a plane must be flight certified, which currently requires the customer to develop process and material specifications around each additive technology, then typically requires supplier site qualification to the process specification. Annual audits are then needed, costing the OEM customer and additive supplier a lot of time and money. Streamlining this approval process with certified material and process standards will further enhance AM’s benefits and efficiencies to the supply chain.

If aerospace is such an adopter of 3D printing technology, then it begs the question: Why hasn’t the certification process been addressed?

One of the main reasons is the ever-expanding and continuously evolving variety of 3D printing materials and processes. While this improvement allows for further advancements in capabilities, it makes it difficult for certification processes and standards to keep up. Not all companies use the same materials or technology for the same purposes either, which further complicates certification needs.

The lack of certification process has limited adoption of AM in aerospace because there has been a lack of specialized solutions and statistical datasets available to help navigate certification roadblocks. Also, some aerospace firms have taken the certification processes into their own hands and view the results as proprietary information, so it doesn’t get shared with the broader aerospace or AM communities.

This builds an “every company for itself” mentality, forcing each firm to collect its own data and construct its own processes—both of which can be expensive and time-consuming and can lead to overall variability across the industry. This approach can also hinder a company’s willingness to pursue additive technologies for parts production.

In efforts to consolidate and streamline the certification process and further expand additive manufacturing for production parts, Stratasys worked with aerospace and certification communities to develop the Aircraft Interior Certification Solution (AICS). It provides a path toward certifying additively manufactured parts by laying out the material, process and standards needed to develop AM parts for aircraft installation. With players in both 3D printing and aerospace industries involved, the certification process is a more cohesive approach to help aerospace organizations get 3D printed parts more quickly certified for flight.

With collaboration from all those involved and a willingness to share information, additively manufactured parts will be uniformly certified for use in aerospace applications—helping to diminish variability across the industry.

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