Source: | Michael Molitch-Hou |August 16, 2017

A part 3Dprinted by Norsk Titanium for Boeing. (Image courtesy of Norsk.)

On the ground floor of 3D printing technology for years, aerospace manufacturers first began adopting the various additive manufacturing (AM) processes for use in prototyping. With each advance in the technology, they have been there as AM was used for the creation of tooling to, most recently, the mass manufacturing of end parts.

GE increased its role in the industry dramatically when it acquired two metal 3D printer manufacturers and formed GE Additive. GE, however, isn’t the only aerospace company that’s taken AM to the skies. Also ahead of the pack is Boeing, which has been flying 3D-printed parts since 2003.

As a manufacturer with a leading role in the 3D printing space, Boeing may be able to offer key insight into the various platforms that make up AM and how they are currently being used in aerospace, as well as how they can and will be used in the industry in the future. To gain some of this insight, spoke to Leo Christodoulou, director of Structures and Materials, Enterprise Operations and Technology at Boeing.

Back in 2003

As the number two federal contractor, behind Lockheed Martin, Boeing was awarded over $16 billion in taxpayer funds in 2015. Being so closely tied to the federal government has historically given the aerospace manufacturer access to some of the Department of Defense’s leading projects.

In 2003, for instance, Boeing was a part of a U.S. Air Force Research Laboratory effort to qualify and fly a metal 3D-printed part on the F-15 fighter jet. The project arose when a replacement part was needed, but the lead time for tooling would be too long. Additionally, the part was going to be made from titanium, rather than with aluminum forging, as had been the case in the past. This would reduce corrosion fatigue associated with the aluminum part.

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