Dear Desktop Engineering Reader:
It seems that at some point every new, game-changing technology hits critical mass and merges into our genes. That does not mean the technology gets old or passé. Rather, the technology becomes a part of us and, in doing so, brings immeasurable value to our lives and work. Take audio technology. Did you know that today in 1922, Warren G. Harding became the first sitting US president to have his voice transmitted by radio? It was a big deal. Now we have politicians doing “get out the vote” podcasts. Life wasn’t always like that, but audio technology forever changed how we perceive our lives.
It seems that additive manufacturing is approaching this point. Anecdotal evidence: The President spoke of its transformational potential during a national address, you see human-interest stories about it on mainstream TV news, and it’s popping up on soon to be canceled sitcoms.
None of that is to say that the almost daily advances in additive manufacturing technology are not exciting. They most certainly are. Frankly, it’s like the march from AM radios to iPods: we’ve only begun to see the changes in technology. But now the technology story is enhanced with reports on how intelligent people apply additive manufacturing and reap immeasurable value in their work and, by extension, change our relationship with the world. That’s the story — actually, stories — we have for you today.
“Additive Manufacturing Trends in Aerospace: Leading the Way” is a 7-page PDF written by Joe Hiemenz at Stratasys. Some people working with Dimension 3D printers, which are a part of the Design Series at Stratasys, brought the paper to my attention even though Dimension printers are not mentioned, excluding the fine-print notices. For that matter, “Stratasys” is barely used. Anyway, they wanted me to read and tell you about it because they felt that it is eminently readable.
Your thumbnail description is that you get a lot of different perspectives on how FDM (fused deposition modeling) has changed how aerospace manufacturers go about designing, prototyping, functionally testing, and even delivering finished components. You have companies that range from advanced manufacturers to NASA to a volunteer group keeping a vintage aircraft flying. You have unmanned systems, instrumentation, small parts, and tooling. The whole kennel is here.
Hiemenz achieves this depth and breath by broadly dividing the paper into short sections, each containing a few vignettes on how some engineers leverage additive manufacturing technology. The main sections are prototyping, testing, manufacturing processes, and production. These are further divided into topics such as tooling, commercial/military applications, jigs, fixtures & surrogates, and so forth. But that’s just the mechanics.
See, Hiemenz made a clever choice writing about the aerospace industry because what he’s really writing about is how additive manufacturing is enabling innovation. He could have picked another industry and achieved the same results, but, really, who has a better rep for innovating than aerospace? It’s always out there on the edge of technology. Its history is filled with legends of early technology adopters. Its ethos is probing the limits of technologies and doing things that can’t be done like flying that contraption at Kitty Hawk or parachuting a self-propelled laboratory unto the surface of a planet.
And now aerospace manufacturers have incorporated additive manufacturing throughout their infrastructure — from concept designs to reverse engineering impossible to find parts, and from near end-of-life repairs to making plastic tools for high-pressure hydroforming of sheet metal parts. Hiemenz covers this all. Without commentary. He lets the engineers speak. And what you see here is a tale about how a once novel technology changed forever the way we perceive doing design and manufacturing jobs. It happens to be in aerospace, but it could be wherever design and manufacturing occur.
Good stuff. Hit the link over there and download a copy of “Additive Manufacturing Trends in Aerospace: Leading the Way” for yourself.
Thanks, Pal. – Lockwood
Anthony J. Lockwood
Editor at Large, Desktop Engineering