The Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) recently achieved a major military milestone in the use of 3-D printed parts. As detailed in the article linked below, an MV-22B Osprey completed a test flight with a 3-D printed link and fitting assembly for the aircraft’s engine nacelle. This was the first successful flight with a flight-critical aircraft component built using 3-D printing.
“3-D printing,” the term most commonly used today for what was originally called “additive manufacturing,” employs use of digital 3-D design data to build items in layers of metal, plastic and other critical materials. The technology is truly exciting, but NAVAIR (and others) are taking careful steps to ensure the exuberance over this emerging technology does not get ahead of safety concerns. Ensuring military specifications (MILSPECS) are adhered to and certifications (such as those initially achieved via “first article” testing) are achieved remain paramount – particularly on parts with critical safety-of-flight applications.
Within the last 30 years or so, employment of “just in time” logistics has emerged as a driving force in the practice of supply chain management (SCM). The theory behind “just in time” logistics is that careful planning ensures parts are delivered to the prospective user “just in time” – just as he or she needs them to perform maintenance and/or sustain operations. Such a practice drastically reduces the amount of capital invested in inventories and tied up in the ongoing cost to warehouse and hold those inventories. 3-D printing (think of it as “manufacturing on demand”) adds a whole new dimension to delivering “just in time” logistics. Imagine the possibilities!