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First 3D Printed Structural Airplane Components Approved by FAA

The Verge reports on some good news for Boeing, one of the largest manufacturers of airplanes and airplane parts in the world.  Boeing has begun “using 3D printed titanium parts in the construction of its 787 Dreamliner jet airliner.  These are the first 3D printed structural components to be approved by the Federal Aviation Authority.”  

Additionally, according to Norsk Titanium, the manufacturers of these parts, this means Boeing could now save up to $3 million in construction costs on each airplane built.  “These cost savings are important for Boeing, which lost money on each 787 built until last year.  This is quite normal for commercial jet programs, which sink a lot of money into initial research and engineering, before trimming expenses by making the manufacturing process more efficient.”

Beyond this, “the 787 is particularly worrying cost-wise due to its extensive use of titanium.  This metal alloy is strong, lightweight, and helps to keep the plane fuel efficient, but costs seven times more than aluminum, which is commonly used in commercial jets.”

This is why 3D printing is such a breath of fresh air for the industry.  Norsk Aluminum “has developed its own technology for creating titanium parts, using a technique named Rapid Plasma Deposition or RPD, in which titanium wire is melted in a cloud of argon gas to create each part.  This process cuts down on both raw material costs and energy usage compared to traditional forging and machining…making each jet cheaper to build.”

Norsk Aluminum plans to get its “entire manufacturing process approved [by the FAA within the next year], rather than each individual part, allowing it to produce even more parts for Boeing and other firms.  This will ‘open up the floodgates’ for 3D printed titanium in commercial jets.”

Image and Quotes Courtesy of The Verge

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