5 Ways Additive Manufacturing Shortens Aerospace Supply Chains



Additive manufacturing cannot and will not totally displace traditional manufacturing in aerospace. However, if aerospace companies can produce some parts and tools at the point of need, to their own exacting specifications, without relying on global suppliers, they will be in a stronger position to weather any disruption in their supply chain no matter the cause.

Now more than ever, the aerospace industry needs to implement more efficient procurement and shorter production cycles. The coronavirus pandemic has taught us very quickly that 1) supply chains can be interrupted for indeterminable lengths of time and 2) the sudden decline in passengers means airlines have to find new ways to cut costs. That’s why a growing number of aerospace manufacturers and fleet owners in both the commercial and defense sectors are taking a serious look at how additive manufacturing can shorten supply chains and save money.


Here are a few examples of how 3D printing can help:


Bring the factory to the hanger. Commercial airlines perform service at every hub. Military missions may require planes to be stationed on another continent for extended periods. Rather than source replacement parts from a distant vendor and wait for shipment, an on-site 3D printer can make spare tools and parts in a matter of hours in-house, wherever the house (or hangar) may be.


One machine, many uses. Keeping planes in the air requires a lot of moving parts. Unlike factories with production lines dedicated to making a single part, a 3D printer is a versatile tool ready to print ESD-safe flight-worthy parts one day, and chemical- or corrosion-resistant ground support tools the next.


Minimize warehouse costs. Rather than stocking a warehouse full of parts that might become obsolete or mass quantities of spare parts that may never be used, additive manufacturing condenses physical inventory space into digital files that can be stored in the cloud and transformed into tangible parts as needed.


Scale isn’t necessary. Traditional manufacturing dictates a need for scale to achieve economy. Not so with 3D printing. Especially in the world of aerospace where the need for one-off tools or limited run replacement parts is common. Once designed and stored, the part can be reprinted economically on demand for the cost of materials.


Cut links out of the supply chain. With additive manufacturing, commercial and defense customers no longer need to vet multiple suppliers, negotiate pricing, or manage transportation logistics and costs. Simply purchase the best filament materials identified for the part and produce need quantities directly.




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