3D printer parts used in jet fighters

6 Jan 2014

BAE Systems

The world’s first fighter jet made with components produced by a 3D printer has flown, marking a shift in future manufacturing.

BAE Systems, one of the world’s largest military aircraft manufacturers, based in the UK, have successfully test-flown its first 3D printer-assisted jet.

It is envisaged by BAE Systems that for the foreseeable future, many of the plane’s smaller components could be manufactured by its own engineers which would not only cut down on the needs to source parts from elsewhere, but will save the company an estimated £1.2m over four years.

The parts will be manufactured at the Royal Air Force’s base at Marham, Norfolk and will include pieces of equipment like protective covers for cockpit radios and guards for power take-off shafts and it has been suggested that some of these pieces will cost less than £100 each to manufacture.

Military investors in 3D printing

Many of the world’s leading militaries and defence contractors have, like BAE Systems, have begun to seriously consider and invest in introducing 3D printing to lower production costs.

For example, the US military has begun looking at 3D printing as a way of creating necessary equipment anywhere in the world, even in a combat situation. The  Expeditionary Lab Mobile (ELM), otherwise known as a ‘FabLab’ is a mobile 3D printing studio which can create whatever is required of them.

Head of airframe integration at BAE Systems said about the implementation of 3D printing parts: “You are suddenly not fixed in terms of where you have to manufacture these things.You can manufacture the products at whatever base you want, providing you can get a machine there, which means you can also start to support other platforms such as ships and aircraft carriers.

“And if it’s feasible to get machines out on the front line, it also gives improved capability where we wouldn’t traditionally have any manufacturing support.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic