The 3D printing paradigm in the Portuguese aerospace sector

23 February 2021

In the aeronautics and space sectors in Portugal, 3D printing is already a reality, but one that needs to be more developed.

The 3D printing technology has already impacted, on a large scale, several industries. Aeronautics and space are no exception but, in Portugal, there is still a long way to go.

In collaboration with CODI, a cluster member company with expertise in this area, AED Cluster Portugal presents a small summary of what this technology is, the potential and importance of its use, as well as the state of the art in Portugal and the country’s position in the international market, within the aerospace sector.

 

3D PRINTING POTENTIAL AND ITS USE FOR AEROSPACE

This technology has allowed us to design and develop new products in a faster and more accessible way, reducing the development cycle while enabling us to test more and achieving a better product in a shorter time.

Ultimatelly, 3D printing reduces not only the necessary raw material but also the production time, leading to a reduced energy consumption, making the manufacturing process more sustainable.

In the civil aeronautics sector, 3D printing has enabled the development of increasingly lighter components and without jeopardizing the safety of aircrafts – in fact, on the contrary. From engine parts and metal structures to plastic cabin parts, today we already have more than 6.000 parts produced in an additive process on the Airbus A350, for example.

Today it is already possible to think about small and medium scale production with the help of 3D printing. Companies like Airbus or Boeing are already testing and certifying some of these processes. In the future, 3D printing will certainly be very important, and put to use daily, to develop UAM (Urban Air Mobility) aircrafts.

Also in the space sector, this process is gaining more and more relevance. NASA wants to build a lunar base, which will allow us to settle on the Moon, by 2030. 3D printing will be a key tool in the process until then, as it brings us the ability to transform lunar dust into a material very similar to concrete.

 

3D PRINTING MARKET AND THE PORTUGUESE POSITION INTERNATIONALLY

This technology played a crucial role in helping to fight the pandemic worldwide, which made 3D printing’s potential more visible. Portugal was not oblivious to this fact and with the joint effort of some companies and academic centers, it was possible to grow and develop this process. However, looking at the general context, we are somewhat dormant when it comes to investing in these new technologies, namely when compared to the countries of the east, for example. Most likely, this is also due to the fact that Portugal has an industry that has been greatly weakened by over-betting on the services sector in recent decades.

There is an opportunity to bet in this technology here in Portugal and we must encourage it, as it will help us to develop and produce new products more quickly and in a more accessible way, contributing to be more competitive in the foreign market. This is because, with these new technological processes, we will not need to set up large factories with large machines, which makes starting the industrialization process much easier and faster. Nonetheless, the same applies to our competitors, so a fast and efficient approach is important.

It is also crucial to look at training in these new technologies, as the way of designing and producing will change completely in the coming years. We have to be prepared to respond to the new job market and to have a capable and competitive national industry.

It is important that we do not miss this opportunity to catch the “3D printing train”, as the adoption of these processes by the aerospace industry will require a major reengineering of production and design processes, which will allow us to reposition ourselves in the markets alongside the current major players.

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