The Wall Street Journal reports that someday soon, Boeing engineers will be able to actually print plane parts like entire wings by using 3D printing technology.
Basically, through the use of a huge office-like printer, engineers would be able to combine metal particles and other substances to create thin layers of metal that would form parts like wings.
3D printing, or additive manufacturing, is a process of making three dimensional solid objects from a digital file. 3D printing is achieved using additive processes, where an object is created by laying down successive layers of material. 3D printing is considered distinct from traditional machining techniques (subtractive processes) which mostly rely on the removal of material by drilling, cutting etc.
Currently, 3D printing technology is used for numerous products like jewelry, implants and models. The technology has been around for about 25 years now, but only in the last decade have companies began researching it’s viability for manufacturing. Large-scale companies like GE are finally researching the technology further exploring ways to mass produce large and complicated products.
According to WSJ, the Obama administration is hopeful 3D printing technology will help the US become more competitive in global manufacturing dedicating 30 million to create a research institute to be announced sometime in August.
Boeing already creates about 300 different smaller aircraft parts using 3-D printing, including ducts that carry cool air to electronic equipment. Some of these ducts have complicated shapes and formerly had to be assembled from numerous pieces, boosting labor costs.
When the dishwasher in a Boeing cafeteria in St. Louis broke down recently, the company’s plumber didn’t want to wait for a plastic replacement part to be shipped to the site. He asked Mr. Hayes, the Boeing engineer, to replicate the part on a computer screen and print it out. That took about 30 minutes.
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