China is now using advanced 3D-printing tech in its warplanes

It makes the planes lighter and more efficient while lowering production costs.
Loukia Papadopoulos
Shenyang J-31 (F60).jpg
Shenyang J-31 (F60)

Danny Yu/ Wikimedia  

We often hear about the many wonders of 3D printing, its efficiency, cost effectiveness and sturdiness but it’s more commonly used in houses not planes. Now, China has adapted the technology to make it ideal for its warplanes, according to an article by the Global Times published on Saturday. 

3D printing applied on a large scale

"We are applying 3D printing technologies on aircraft on a large scale at an engineering level, and we are in a world-leading position," Doctor Li Xiaodan, a member of the Luo Yang Youth Commando at Shenyang Aircraft Company's craft research institute, told China Central Television (CCTV) on Saturday.

This is partially due to a growing demand for planes that has seen traditional manufacturing reach a ceiling in 2013. These new and advanced 3D printing techniques are now enabling the production of new planes with high structural strength, long service life, low cost of production and fast manufacturing. 

Conventional manufacturing methods have many drawbacks including the need to use rivets or welding to connect parts together. However, since 3D printing builds an integrated part, the resulting structure benefits from higher structural strength and longer service life.

In addition, no extra materials are wasted in the 3D printing process making for lighter parts which reduce an airplane's overall weight allowing it to fly further and perform better. 3D printing is also very speedy allowing parts to be quickly manufactured and making logistics support simpler and more affordable.

An industry increasing in popularity

3D printing is becoming extremely popular in aircraft manufacturing with users of the technology not only including the Shenyang Aircraft Company but also other Chinese aircraft makers. Although this may seem like a revolution for the 3D printing industry it should be noted that other airplane manufacturers have made use of it before.

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In September of 2022, Hermes announced that its 3,800 mph hypersonic airplanes would get 3D-printed bodies.  The company, who previously worked with NASA and the U.S. Air Force, revealed it had obtained the Sapphire and large-format Sapphire XC printers of Velo3D, an end-to-end metal additive manufacturing solution.

“Metal additive manufacturing is a core component of our plan to vertically integrate production,” said at the time Glenn Case, CTO at Hermeus.

“As we explore the capabilities of Velo3D’s additive manufacturing technology, we’ll be looking for ways to increase performance, consolidate components, reduce the weight of our aircraft, and minimize external dependencies,” Case also added.

In fact, as far back as 2016, Airbus was exploring the use of 3D printing in making its jumbo jets. The company claimed at the time that 3D printing would allow it to create rigid parts that can take on both curvilinear shapes, as well as hollow ones. Manufacturing aircraft parts in this manner would enable weight to be conserved while simultaneously keeping the necessary strength required to thrive while flying.