Summary of patent.
Boeing has filed a patent application for the 3D printing of replacement parts for its aircraft.
3D printing has the potential to significantly reduce costs in the aerospace sector by enabling the manufacture of replacement parts at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods. With additive manufacturing techniques, replacement parts can be made quickly and cheaply and the benefits can be game changing for the industry, increasing the lifetime for online aircraft and improving current standards.
According to a report by GeekWire, Boeing is already implementing this on a large scale with around 20,000 non-metallic parts currently being used on 10 different aircraft production programmes.
Boeing’s patent, published last week proposes that parts can be manufactured by downloading a file from a database and then 3D printed within hours, cutting out lengthy lead times in the process.
The claims in the patent filed in 2013 are summarised here:
“A method and apparatus is presented. The apparatus comprises a parts library, a database, and a parts management system. The parts library is configured to store a plurality of part definition files. The database is configured to store entries identifying a printing of parts using the plurality of part definition files. The parts management system is configured to receive a request for a part definition file in the parts library, identify the part definition file in the plurality of part definition files in the parts library, receive an indication of a printing of a part using the part definition file, and store an entry identifying the printing of the part using the part definition file in the database.”
Illustration of aircraft in accordance with patent terms.
Though current parts have been exclusively printed in plastic materials, the patent states that future materials will include, metals, metal alloys and polymers amongst other “desirable materials”.
The aerospace industry is already implementing 3D printing at a colossal scale. Just last week, Rolls Royce announced its intention to flight test an engine featuring the world’s largest 3D printed aerospace component in a project from the University of Sheffield and Coventry’s Manufacturing Technology Centre.
Like Boeing, which has been using additive manufacturing technology since the late 1990’s, Airbus implemented its first 3D printed spare part for a cabin attendant seat on board an Air Transat flight in February last year. As the technology becomes more commonplace in the industry, perhaps fellow aerospace companies will set similar terms to further the development of this growing technology.