Evaluation of the Application of Additive Manufacturing in the Aircraft Industry
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With stringent regulatory constraints, certification standards, and complex multi-tier suppliers involving several players, the aviation industry often faces with the most complex supply chain scenarios. Further, considering the overall costs, keeping the downtimes lower is paramount which necessitates the maintenance and operations components ending up in huge inventories and locking up large amounts of funds. Non-agile, time-taking, and limited-capability traditional manufacturing methods are central to most of these problems. The additive manufacturing methods that evolved from the erstwhile rapid prototyping technologies are capable of offering some solutions. The ability to convert the digital data directly into near-net finished forms without any complex intermediate tooling and tasks allows for true just-in-time manufacturing solutions, which can directly resolve the supply chain and inventory issues. The point-by-point material consolidation mechanics will allow for achieving shape complexities that are by far impossible and allow for a plethora of opportunities for optimisation of shapes. Where does the technology currently stands then with reference to the aviation industry and what are the bottlenecks if any and how can they be overcome are the questions that will arise, and this research is designed to provide the answers. Based on literature reviews and discussions with organisations such as Air New Zealand Engineering, it was understood that there is widespread interest in exploring the application of AM in the aviation industry, but the information is either scattered or hidden from common access. The opportunities to drastically improve the product designs that are severely constrained by the limitations of the traditional manufacturing methods are yet to be exploited fully. It was also understood that the materials options are limited, and the consolidation mechanics is unclear in many cases. At the end, the lack of standards and the certification procedures were identified to be the main stumbling blocks for the wider uptake of the technologies, where they are really useful. Addressing these issues, the current research was developed with four research aims: 1) A comprehensive review of resources, classification and compilation of the application potentials of AM in the aviation industry, 2) evaluation of the topology optimisation schemes and implementation in selected aircraft components, 3) Evaluation of alternative materials for specific additive technologies, and 4) Evaluation of the current standards, identification of the gaps, ascertaining the future course of action and developing the certification pathways for overcoming the hurdles of implementing the technological solutions on the aircraft systems. A systematic scientific search method was used to explore several databases and extract all the information on the current state of application of AM in the aviation industry and data gathered is suitably classified and compiled into a useful format. Topology optimisation tasks were undertaken based on finite element simulations of the stress field of two selected components. The results indicated significant weight savings and consequent reductions in fuel consumption. Two new materials were investigated based on semiempirical experimental evaluations and proved to be suitable for processing by selective laser sintering, targeting future applications in the aircraft interior products. Around 200 standards relevant to AM and the aviation industry are reviewed and compiled according to the order of the critical stages of product development. The pathways for certification of the new product concepts were shown by integrating the product development tasks and the stipulations from the relevant standards together. The outcomes are expected to provide some initial guidelines for the standards to be used and the documentation to be developed in order to qualify any new product design through the stringent certification processes of the aviation authorities.