After investing quite a significant amount into 3D printing and technology’s development, Boeing is anticipating a substantial increase in the amount of 3D printing applications on its aircraft. Already, they utilize 3D printing technology to produce a variety of components for multiple types of aircraft, and according to sources at the company, they plan to use it even more. Last month (May 2018), Boeing inked a deal with Assembrix, a software company from Israel, for the purpose of securing their 3D designs and information.

According to Kim Smith, the leader of Boeing’s additive manufacturing initiative and the vice president and general manager for Boeing Commercial Airplanes Fabrication, “As we grow our additive capabilities, Boeing’s collaboration with Assembrix will help us expand our cybersecurity digital thread to ensure the appropriate measures are in place to help safeguard the company’s intellectual property,”

Structural 3D-printed titanium part used to hold the Auxiliary Power Unit door open for maintenance access when the airplane is on the ground. This part is lighter and easier to install than its traditionally manufactured counterpart. Image: Boeing & Kerry Reals


Boeing teamed up with Assembrix because their cloud-based platform provides them an extremely simple and efficient across the 3D printing process while also guaranteeing that their information is secure. Already, Boeing has developed 20 locations across the globe with additive manufacturing capabilities. One of these sites can be found in Salt Lake City, Utah where Boeing produces 3D printed composite parts for the flight deck of its 777X aircraft, including footrests and air ducts.

“We also work with a diverse global network of supply chain partners to produce 3D-printed parts for our commercial airplane programs,” says Smith. “An example of that is our collaboration with Norsk, which is using a Boeing design and its titanium 3D printing technology to build an interior galley bracket for the 787.”

One of Boeing’s largest 3D printing initiatives is found in Washington state at Boeing Commercial Airplanes’ Interiors Responsibility Center. At this facility, Boeing 3D prints 180 different parts – mainly for their cabin interiors. Already, there are more than 60,000 3D printed parts integrated into active Boeing commercial, space and defense aircraft and products. One employee from the center provided that “[Boeing] expects to see an increasing number of applications for 3D printing going forward.”

Structural 3D-printed titanium aft galley fitting designed by Boeing and manufactured by Norsk Titanium. This part became the world’s first structural titanium 3D-printed part installed on a commercial airplane in 2017. Image: Boeing & Kerry Reals

Additively manufactured components are incorporated into stow bins, sidewalls, ceilings, furnishings and crew rests. These parts include lanyards, seals, spacers, as well as premium fairing closeouts and sign bezels,” says Smith. “Boeing continues to develop ideas internally and with suppliers and customers as the technology and materials mature.”

Boeing sees 3D printing technologies as a major asset, due to its speedy process, cost efficiency and minimal material waste, and they plan to utilize it even more for the production of standard aircraft parts, explaining additive manufacturing is “another potential way to allow airlines to further customize cabin furnishings in selected applications, via textures and logos”.

“By way of analogy, instead of carving a statue out of a block of marble, additive manufacturing produces the statue itself from a digital design. With this technology, our engineers can design, prototype, redesign (if needed) and qualify parts or tooling faster than ever before,” says Smith.

“In addition, by allowing an engineer to deposit material only where it’s structurally needed, parts are made with less raw material and can improve product performance by making an aircraft lighter and more fuel-efficient.”

Boeing’s dedication to 3D printing, which started in 1997, has allowed them to flourish in recent years and is “continually” being researched and developed to find new uses that will “help accelerate our [Boeing’s] ability to utilize additive manufacturing in production.”

“Using additive manufacturing for airplane manufacturing is no different to implementing other new technologies: we use a range of criteria to assess how 3D printing can add value for our customers and support Boeing’s business goals,” says Smith.

“In addition, 3D-printed parts must, of course, meet the same rigorous certification standards as any other part installed on our airplanes and products.”

Boeing is not alone in the exploration and utilization of additive manufacturing technologies for aerospace. Check out these other stories about 3D printing in the aeronautical industry:

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