The tantalizing but complex topic of additive manufacturing – the production of parts built layer by layer -- was in focus as Day 2 of Aviation Week’s MRO Americas conference opened in Phoenix on April 9.
Matthew Bromberg, president of aftermarket at engine manufacturer Pratt & Whitney, says the day will come when overhaul shops will simply “print” their replacement parts, speeding up repair tasks and reducing inventory stocks. “It will work and it will be efficient,” he said in a keynote address at the MRO show, which drew 10,000 attendees. “It’s the way the industry will go.”
But even the most seasoned veterans of additive manufacturing are not sure how quickly the technology will be adapted in the aerospace industry. Mike Cloran, director of marketing for GE Aviation’s Additive Development Center, has long been an evangelist for additive metals manufacturing. He puts the current size of the additive manufacturing market – machines, materials and services – at $2.5 billion annually. But Cloran, speaking as part of an additive manufacturing panel that followed Bromberg’s address, says growth estimates vary widely. One calls for the market to mushroom to $16 billion within four years. Another forecasts it will take until 2025 just to get to $4 billion.
Cloran notes that additive manufacturing for metals parts has only been in existence for a decade, and says applications for the technology are expected to increase exponentially, particularly after 2018, as the process uses multiple metals to create designer alloys. “Over the last few years, it has grown way beyond our expectations,” he says.