This industry comprises establishments primarily engaged in one or more of the following: (1) manufacturing complete aircraft, missiles, or space vehicles; (2) manufacturing aerospace engines, propulsion units, auxiliary equipment or parts; (3) developing and making prototypes of aerospace products; (4) aircraft conversion (i.e., major modifications to systems); and (5) complete aircraft or propulsion systems overhaul and rebuilding (i.e., periodic restoration of aircraft to original design specifications).
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The New Space Race: How 3-D Printing Is Driving Current And Future Space Exploration
The ability to print parts is also helping reduce the complexity of rockets. Dubbed by some as “the most complex flying machine ever built,” the Space Shuttle used a staggering 2.5 million parts. Using 3-D printing, manufacturers can consolidate many of the complex components into multifunction assemblies, which can make them easier, faster and less expensive to produce, as well as more reliable to operate.
As the cost and complexity of manufacturing rockets and rocket engines have decreased in recent years, a number of private space exploration companies have emerged. Among the newest players in the field, our customer Privateer Space, co-founded by Steve Wozniak, is using 3-D printing to create small cube satellites that will monitor and remove debris from orbit.
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Additive for Aerospace: Welcome to the New Frontier
Gao, a tech fellow and AM technical lead at Aerojet Rocketdyne, is particularly interested in the 3D printing of heat-resistant superalloys (HRSAs) and a special group of elements known as refractory metals. The first of these enjoy broad use in gas turbines and rocket engines, but it’s the latter that offers the greatest potential for changing the speed and manner in which humans propel aircraft, spacecraft, and weaponry from Point A to Point B.
“When you print these materials, they typically become both stronger and harder than their wrought or forged equivalents,” he said. “The laser promotes the creation of a supersaturated solid solution with fantastic properties, ones that cannot be achieved otherwise. When you combine this with AM’s ability to generate shapes that were previously impossible to manufacture, it presents some very exciting possibilities for the aerospace industry.”
Eric Barnes, a fellow of advanced and additive manufacturing at Northrop Grumman, says “Northrop Grumman and its customers are now in a position to more readily adopt additive manufacturing and prepare to enter that plateau of productivity because we have spent the past few years collecting the required data and generating the statistical information needed to ensure long term use of additive manufacturing in an aeronautical environment… In the future, you may be able to eliminate NDT completely. Comprehensive build data will also serve to reduce qualification timelines, and if you’re able to understand all that’s going on inside the build chamber in real-time, machine learning and AI systems might be able to adjust process parameters such that you never have a bad part.”
Aerospace, Defense and Industry 4.0
“Designing for manufacturability, modeling the production environment, and then producing our products with a minimum of duplicated effort—this can give us the breakthroughs in speed and affordability that the A&D environment needs in a time of limited budgets and rapidly changing threats,” explains Daughters. “These technologies are an essential component to our ‘digital thread’ across the product life cycle. They give us the ability to simulate tradeoffs between capability, manufacturability, complexity, materials and cost before transitioning to the physical world.”
“In a nutshell, I4.0 involves leveraging technology to better serve the world,” says Matt Medley, industry director for A&D manufacturing at IFS, a multinational enterprise software company. “More than just collecting and processing mounds of data via sensors and the Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT), I4.0 is turning data into actionable intelligence to not only drive efficiency and grow profits, but to also help companies be good stewards of our natural resources and local communities. Aerospace and defense companies whose enterprise software can keep pace with developments like additive manufacturing, AI, digital twins, and virtual and augmented reality (V/AR) are the ones that will thrive in an increasingly digital 4.0 era.”
The Genius of 3D Printed Rockets
Automating Carbon-Fiber Composite Fuselage Assembly
“During the last 10 years, increased commercial aircraft production rates have led to more interest in automating assembly processes,” Brieskorn points out. “To reduce process times and cost, automation is becoming more appealing to engineers.
“However, the main challenge is that large aircraft parts come with relatively high geometry deviations, so robots need sensor guidance,” says Brieskorn. “Strict requirements and tight tolerances in the final structures are also challenging for standard automation systems.”
3D Printing Technologies in Aerospace and Defense Industries
Currently, AI is an integral part of the design process for AM in aerospace. In designing parts for aircraft, achieving the optimal weight-to-strength ratio is a primary objective, since reducing weight is an important factor in air-frame structures design. Today’s PLM solutions offer function-driven generative design using AI-based algorithms to capture the functional specifications and generate and validate conceptual shapes best suited for AM fabrication. Using this generative functional design method produces the optimal lightweight design within the functional specifications.
Creating a Factory of the Future in Aerospace
One of the unique anomalies of aerospace manufacturing is how it transitions from automated to manual production. Many initial components are fabricated in highly automated machining or manufacturing systems. These systems are already Industry 4.0-enabled with integrated sensors and PLCs that capture and package production data for analysis and quality control.
As subassemblies are created and installed, final assembly and integration is much more manual. For example, the final tightening of thousands of fasteners on aircraft is often done with pneumatic and manual wrenches that are purely mechanical, with manual inspections and written verification on paper documents. However, aerospace manufacturers can improve this process by integrating smart, programmable tightening tools that document the amount of torque applied for each fastener and that can automatically reconfigure torque and rotation settings based on the assigned task.
Evolutionary Algorithms: How Natural Selection Beats Human Design
An evolutionary algorithm, which is a subset of evolutionary computation, can be defined as a “population-based metaheuristic optimization algorithm.” These nature-inspired algorithms evolve populations of experimental solutions through numerous generations by using the basic principles of evolutionary biology such as reproduction, mutation, recombination, and selection.
Boeing Tests Augmented Reality in the Factory
Installing electrical wiring on an aircraft is a complex task that leaves zero room for error. That’s why Boeing is testing augmented reality as a possible solution to give technicians real-time, hands-free, interactive 3D wiring diagrams - right before their eyes.
“Our theory studies have shown a 90 percent improvement in first-time quality when compared to using two-dimensional information on the airplane, along with a 30 percent reduction in time spent doing a job.”