3D technologies set to up aerospace companies' competitive edge

3D technologies set to up aerospace companies' competitive edge

3D printing will complement the growth of the aerospace industry by helping to lower manufacturing costs and allowing greater flexibility in design, experts say.

manufacturing aircraft component
A worker checking an aircraft component at an aerospace industry manufacturing plant in Singapore. (Photo: AFP / Roslan Rahman)

SINGAPORE: 3D or additive manufacturing technologies are set to enable aerospace companies to become more competitive, according to industry experts at the NAMIC Aerospace Summit on Thursday (Apr 6).

According to GE Aviation vice president for Industrialisation Dr Sanjay Correa, 3D printing will complement the growth of the aerospace industry by helping to lower manufacturing costs and allowing greater flexibility in design.

"You can design with much greater freedom than before,” he said. “So ideally, the additive manufactured part is actually not simply reproducing a conventionally designed part. Typically, you can take weight out, you can have better performance, better life, because you simplify - say 20 parts joined by bolts or braces - and it’s just one continuously printed part. These are some of the advantages, in addition to speed, that make additive printing important for us."

Agreeing, National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Cluster (NAMIC) chief executive Ho Chaw Sing said costs and environmental concerns are key drivers for the development of 3D printing industry.

“From 2016 to 2022, the global 3D printing market is expected to grow at a CAGR of close to 30 per cent and will hit something close to US$30 billion,” said Dr Ho at the summit which saw 200 participants from more than 30 companies.

However, he also acknowledged that there are some challenges that the industry needs to overcome, with the industry still in its nascent stages. “One of the few challenges that right now remains to be solved, besides the cost part of it, is the speed. It’s a big question mark. The materials play a key enabler to broaden the application using 3D printing.”

The application of 3D printing is also different across players in the industry, said Mr Sia Kheng Yok, chief executive of Association of Aerospace Industries Singapore (AAIS).

"As a whole, the adoption of additive manufacturing in aerospace is still fairly nascent,” he said. “We know one of the industry leaders, for example, is GE Aviation, which has implemented some additive manufactured parts in its engines. But others are still exploring what the potential is, in terms of economics, in terms of improvements to the quality of products and so on."

Managing director of Embraer Asia Pacific Ricardo Pesce said the aerospace industry in Singapore contributes almost 3 per cent of Singapore’s total manufacturing output.

Mr Pesce, who is also a member of the AAIS management committee, added that the industry in Singapore has grown at a compounded annual growth rate (CAGR) of more than 8 per cent over the last two decades, with Singapore emerging as a key hub for maintenance, repairs and overhaul in the Asia-Pacific.

“The long-term growth prospects for the aerospace industry are very positive, spurred by growing demand for air travel,” he said. “The consensus view is that the Asia-Pacific region will continue to be the key driver of future growth and for the foreseeable future.”

As the aerospace industry continues to play a key part in driving high-quality and sustainable economic growth in Singapore through innovation and the adoption of technologies like additive manufacturing, the Government will continue to help support such efforts, the Economic Development Board (EDB) said.

“EDB will continue to support aerospace companies in their collaborations with research institutes and industry partners in the adoption of additive manufacturing," said Tan Kong Hwee, director of transport engineering at EDB.

The Government has also been focusing on the development of the 3D printing industry, with the setting up of NAMIC, which is spearheaded by the Nanyang Technological University, together with Government agency SPRING Singapore and the National Research Foundation.

Source: CNA/ek

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