How 3D Printing Is Creating Safer Aircraft

The aerospace industry is one that is very familiar with 3D printing technology. From engine components to the air frame and interior, 3D printing has at least touched some of these areas in recent years. Increased production speed, accuracy, and dependability are only a few of the reasons aerospace manufacturers are excited about 3D printing technology. But Boeing, a company that is no stranger to 3D printing has found yet another innovative use for this incredible technology which could lead to creating safer aircraft in the future.

Boeing is calling for new regulations in regard to ice testing aircraft. When a new aircraft is manufactured, there are a series of rigorous tests it must complete in order to make it to a commercial airliner. One of these tests in particular, is how the aircraft handles in high-ice flying conditions. When super cooled air makes contact with a solid surface, it will form ice on whatever it touches. Traditionally, aircraft testing called for expensive fiberglass or metal for ice to be attached to the aircraft. Using fasteners and other binding methods, this practice doesn’t just cost manufacturers more money, it’s also time-consuming and not as accurate as possible. Once these surfaces are manufactured, a test pilot will take the aircraft out for a flight and record their experience with piloting the plane with the fake ice sheeting.

Using fiberglass or metal that is fabricated to simulate ice crystals limits manufacturer’s options, as well as the accuracy of the testing. They can’t produce the variety of ice shapes that would normally be found when ice forms on an aircraft during flight. Furthermore, using these materials calls for invasive binding methods that can damage an aircraft. Boeing has found a new, innovative, way to make testing more accurate and less time-consuming while also mitigating the chance of damage to the aircraft throughout testing. They have called for the use of 3D printed ice shapes to replace outdated testing methods.

3D printing offers a unique set of advantages such as more control over the ice shapes and rapid production of these testing surfaces. Utilizing 3D printing is a creative and innovative way to increase the accuracy of the testing. Aerospace manufacturers can now test different varieties of ice formations in varying concentrations without costing them more money and time.

Boeing is calling for a new certification process that uses these 3D printed ice shapes in order to modernize aircraft testing, increase the accuracy of their testing as well as the safety of all airline passengers. Icing is a serious problem for aircraft and this innovative testing process can dramatically improve the way aircraft perform in real-world conditions. The 3D printed ice shapes can be made from plastic, composite materials or even metal to offer manufacturers more options when it comes to ice testing their aircraft.

It’s not every day an aerospace manufacturer calls for increased regulations on aircraft testing. However, the benefits that will come from it could increase safety and set a new standard for aircraft manufacturers around the world. Not only does it create a standard for aerospace manufacturers, it comes with a host of benefits. It is already incredible what these and other manufacturers are doing with 3D printing technology, but now Boeing is taking it one step farther. It shows that 3D printing technology is only limited by the imagination and creativity of the user.

Sources:

http://www.3ders.org/articles/20160418-boeing-files-patent-for-artificial-3d-printed-ice-blocks-used-for-next-gen-flight-testing.html

http://www.gizmag.com/boeing-3d-printing-ice-certification/42850/

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