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FAA Initiative Shows that Aerospace AM Is Flying High

By: Louis A. Kren

Friday, November 3, 2017
 

As uses for and users of metal-related additive manufacturing (AM) continues to increase, regulatory agencies are taking closer looks at the technology in life- and safety-critical applications.

Beginning on page 12 in the Summer 2017 issue of 3D Metal Printing, we noted how the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), in 2016, published a guidance document, Technical Considerations for Additive Manufactured Devices. FDA’s draft guidance, medical-AM expert Shannon Van Deren, president of Layered Manufacturing and Consulting, Canton, MI, explained to 3DMP, “was an opportunity to show us in the field that FDA is taking us very seriously and is making progress in studying the technology and the outcomes, and what is necessary to have consistency in the quality of products entering the marketplace. As work proceeds, expect FDA directives within the next few years covering medical-device production via AM.”

Then, just this past October, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) announced that it has created a roadmap draft addressing, from a regulatory standpoint, AM for aerospace applications. The FAA already has teams in place to certify AM parts, and is collaborating with industry organizations to establish working groups and committees. The under-construction roadmap will tackle training and education, development of regulatory documents, and an R&D plan.

The recent attention by regulatory bodies indicates that AM is here for the long haul—despite its apparent newness, consider that the technology has been around for three-plus decades. Difficulties lie in assessing all of the recent advancements in machines and materials, and the variety of competing systems. In metal AM, developments have come fast and furious the past couple of years and both FAA and FDA are working hard to get a handle on it, to best advise part producers and users on what’s to be expected on the regulatory side.

But the industry is not waiting. It’s no secret that manufacturers are investing handsomely in metal 3D printing for aerospace, both in new-part production and repair, with certifications such as AS 9100 prepping these companies for aerospace work. The news is filled with efforts toward aerospace—news that continues to drive FAA toward issuing its roadmap. For example, United Technologies Corp. (UTC) recently showed off its renovated $60 million research center in East Hartford, CT, where AM has become a major focus. UTC’s AM team investigates 3D printing for aerospace among other applications, and recently unveiled a process for magnetic materials with sensing capability. This may open the door to increased aerospace work, a UTC spokesperson recently revealed to the Hartford Courant.

Arcam represents another aerospace success, as the company recently reported a 31-percent increase in sales for the first three quarters of 2017 as compared to the same period last year. The jump owes much to an investment by its largest shareholder, General Electric, in 17 Arcam electron-beam-melting machines. It’s a safe bet that the units will be evaluated by GE as it delves ever deeper into aerospace R&D and production.

A look at our TCT show coverage, beginning on page 26 of this issue, reveals more aerospace developments. 3DMP details the 2017 Aerospace Application Award earned by Sciaky, Inc. and Lockheed Martin for production of titanium propellant tanks using Sciaky’s electron-beam AM technology. Compared to the previous manufacturing method, Lockheed Martin Space Systems reduced costs by 55 percent, material waste by 75 percent and production time by 80 percent.

The wins are there in aerospace, and the coming FAA Roadmap should keep the momentum going.

 

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