From prototyping to manufacturing: What is 3D printing being used for?

By Michael Molitch-Hou, for Engineering.com

Jan 23, 2017

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Though we may strive for the day in which it's possible to make an entire aircraft with 3D printing, according to Wohlers Associates, about one-third of the reported additive manufacturing (AM) applications is for creating prototypes and visual models. The actual 3D printing of end parts may be on the rise, but there are applications that lay beyond the most exciting stories put forth by the media.

For example, to demonstrate the possibilities of 3D printing for large-scale tooling, Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) and Boeing designed a specialty tool for Boeing's new aircraft, the 777X. The plane, to hit runways in 2020, will have a massive wingspan of 235 ft 5 in (71.8 m). In order to create tooling large enough to work on components for a 777X wing, ORNL and Boeing 3D printed a specialty drill-and-trim guide on the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) 3D printer from Cincinnati Inc.

At 17.5 ft long, 5.5 ft wide and 1.5 ft tall and weighing 1,650 pounds, the guide was large enough to win ORNL and Boeing a Guinness World Record title for the largest solid, 3D-printed item. According to Leo Christodoulou, Boeing research and technology chief engineer, such a part would have taken about three months if ordered from the firm’s regular supplier.

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