SAAB Tests 3D Printing for Aviation
On operations there always exists the chance that equipment will be damaged. Traditionally, this forces a return of the hardware to base for repair. However, new technology from SAAB group is experimenting with 3D printing to see if it is possible for hardware, or more specifically fighter jets, to be repaired while out in the field.
The test reproduced a broken hinge and hatch for the Gripen C/D fighter aircraft. While the piece itself fitted perfectly, it remains yet to be seen whether this will have any impact on flying.
3D printing demonstrates the incremental drive forward in the manufacturing sector. However, while this may mean that printing can be done closer (temporal and spatial, perhaps) to the 'front line', it is unclear whether this technology is ultimately cost-effective when applied across a company's entire production base.
Indeed, costs in 3D printing vary depending on three key factors. The size of the part, the assembly of the parts together, and the complexity of each piece. It should go without saying, that costs will invariably be very high for projects as complex and ambitious as aircraft. That said, SAAB remains hopeful. As a spokesman from the company noted,
"Printing spare parts is fantastic, and additive manufacturing almost feels like magic. You can print something and get the result, and you can hold it in your hand. It will take us a bit of time to get to where we want to go with this technology for the Gripen, but we are already on our way, and that’s quite fun." https://saab.com/stories/2019-08/testing-new-technology-develops-opportunities/ https://www.moldmakingtechnology.com/blog/post/when-is-3d-printing-cost-effective
Cover Photo Courtesy of Saab.com
At the time of writing, Toby Irwin is a third year student at the University of St Andrews. He is studying International Relations. Areas that interest him the most are UK foreign policy and the defence/aerospace industry.