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Additive aerospace manufacturing in North America and beyond

Graphic showing the possibilities of additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry.
17 Nov 2014

The groundbreaking results of the additive manufacturing industry have been making an impact beyond the automotive world. On land, 3D printing has created products ranging from cars to complete organs to cupcakes, and now we're beginning to see its effects in the air.

Additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry 
One example of additive manufacturing's aerospace capabilities is the development of ultra-strong brackets that can withstand much higher and lower temperatures as well as external pressure. Airbus Defence and Space has been relying on brackets made in this way to produce higher-performance satellites in a shorter duration of time.

The brackets, which link the body with the feeder facilities and reflectors, are typically made of titanium due to its thermal conductivity, density and weight. With the help of a 3D printer, a design is created, loaded into the production machine, and a laser melts and hardens the titanium into the finished product layer by layer. 

According to Aerospace Manufacturing and Design, the process wastes no material, reduces production time and helps Airbus more effectively optimize production of the brackets. These titanium pieces, when manufactured traditionally, already withstand a substantial range in temperatures: -180 degrees to 150 degrees Celsius, to be exact. When additively manufactured, they can withstand an even greater degree span, preventing thermally-induced failure and helping reduce manufacturing costs. 

This innovative manufacturing method has also assisted a postgraduate British team from the U.K.'s Southampton University in the production of the first rocket powered, 3D printed space plane. Created by aeronautical design students, the Vulture 2 was additively manufactured and is speculated to be the world's most advanced unmanned aerial vehicle. 

The project, call the Low Orbit Helium Assisted Navigator Mission, is headed up by The Register's Special Projects Bureau and sponsored by EXASOL AG. According to AMD, the space plane will disembark from Spaceport America, the New Mexico home of Virgin Galactic and reach three times the cruising altitude of the standard transatlantic jet. It will reach 20,000 meters with the help of a helium-filled balloon under a carbon fiber launch structure, at which point a rocket motor will launch the Vulture 2 to 25,000 meters. 

3D printing in Mexico
On the forefront of additive manufacturing in Mexico is MakerMex, a company currently raising funds to manufacture its 3D printer, the MM1 modular 3D printing system. A report by Robotics Tomorrow stated that after its completion, the machine will be able to print material ranging from industrial plastics to rubber to chocolate, making it incredibly versatile. The idea beyond the printer is that its wide range of production capabilities will prevent consumers from needing to continue purchasing new ones as the additive manufacturing industry evolves. 

Ultimately, the development of 3D printing means that Mexico will be able to facilitate additive manufacturing in both printer supply and demand. As the Mexican economy continues to strengthen and adapt its manufacturing capabilities to efficient global production, it positions itself as an adaptive and innovative emerging market. 

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