Additive manufacturing for maintenance of commercial aircraft will likely increase competition in aftermarkets, predicts Thomas Saquer of Frost & Sullivan’s aerospace, defense and security team. “However, before it is used regularly for aftermarkets, additive manufacturing will have to be accepted in line fit, particularly for part manufacturing.” But Saquer says additive repair systems like those developed by BeAM and Optomec could be used much sooner, especially for large, expensive titanium parts.

Additive manufacturing of plastic parts that are not in flight-critical systems are likely to be approved easily by the FAA and European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA). Saquer says the challenge here is cost-effectiveness of the part. “For very small production runs, [additive manufacturing] could easily be cost-effective. But for standard production, injection molding and casting seems more likely to be cost-effective.”

Some currently forged metal parts could become a good candidates for additive manufacturing, with part size depending on how the process develops. Components include those in landing gear, engines and control surfaces. According to Saquer, these parts are mainly made from titanium and thus  expensive to produce, and that additive manufacturing could lower costs.
Highly complex shapes and sub-assemblies are also ideal candidates for additive manufacturing. “Often these would save weight, scrap and cost if additively manufactured,” Saquer explains. Finally, some plastic parts in cabins and air-management systems are good candidates.

The Frost consultant says it is hard to predict when additive manufacturing of aftermarket parts will be realized, but sees it “in the 2020 horizon.”

The best technique for additive manufacturing of plastic parts depends on which ones are selected. Saquer notes that fused-deposition modeling from Stratasys  will be used for early-phase projects by quite a few OEMs and suppliers.
For metal parts, the best techniques depend on intent and what is being made. “Size, material, simple repair and many other factors can dictate the choice of technology,” Saquer notes.

And he reiterates the importance of convincing the FAA and EASA of the conformity of additive processes. “The process that first convinces the airworthiness authorities will be the winner,” he adds.