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Boeing turns to 3D-printed parts to save millions on its 787 Dreamliner

Lucas Mearian | April 12, 2017
The move will reduce production costs for each Dreamliner by $2 million to $3 million.

Airbus, Boeing and defense contractor Raytheon have all experimented with additive manufacturing to develop new components.

In 2015, General Electric revealed that it had completed a multi-year project to print a working jet engine at its Additive Development Center outside Cincinnati.

That same year, Monash University in Australia and its spinoff Amaero Engineering have even 3D printed entire jet engines as proof of concepts.

"Boeing is working to accelerate the use of 3D printing technology in its production in ways that make sense for the company and provides value without increasing risk for our customers," a company spokesperson said.

Norsk Titanium uses what it calls Rapid Plasma Deposition technology, which melts titanium wire using plasma torches in an atmosphere of argon gas. Like desktop 3D printers that use melted thermoplastics, Norsk Titanium deposits layer after layer of titanium to build a part.

"From the outset, the 787 has been the hallmark of innovation and efficiency," John Byrne, vice president of Airplane Materials and Structures, Supplier Management, for Boeing Commercial Airplanes, said in a statement. "We are always looking at the latest technologies to drive cost reduction, performance and value to our customers and Norsk Titanium's RPD capability fits the bill in a new and creative way."

Boeing and Norsk Titanium said they were required to undergo "a rigorous testing program with FAA certification deliverables." That testing was completed in February.

Norsk Titanium said the Dreamliner 3D printed components will be on display at the International Paris Airshow Le Bourget June 19-25, along with a full-scale mock-up of the company's patented MERKE IV Rapid Plasma Deposition 3D printer that produced the structural parts.

 

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