Additive Manufacturing (AM) is a technology that is more than three decades old, and Boeing has been a leader in researching and implementing AM in the aerospace industry since 1997. Metal powder-bed AM technology, however, has only recently begun to demonstrate value for application into critical aerospace products that require high quality and rigorous process and manufacturing control.
Several technological advancements over the past 20 years have led to significant gains in manufacturing production quality and efficiency and find natural synergy with AM due to their shared highly digital natures. The advancements began with the Internet of Things (IoT), and later advanced to create Industry 4.0, both of which enabled the creation of the digital twin and the digital thread across the entire AM value stream: from initial ideation to monitoring the performance of the manufactured component in service.
"As Boeing Has Looked To Maximize The Value Am Can Have On Its Products And Operations, Deliberate Steps Have Been Taken To Integrate Am Part Designers With Product Developers So That Am Can Be Focused On Systems Of Parts Enabling Differentiating Product Platforms"
The Internet of Things (IoT), the interconnection of the internet and sensors that enable the flow of data to and from computing resources, was originally targeted for consumer products. The technology extended to industry and is found in additive manufacturing machines in the form of in-situ monitoring devices and other process sensors intended to flag quality risks. In the future, it will enable real-time feedback to compensate for process deviations.
Industry 4.0 exploited the value of integrated connected systems to increase efficiencies and quality by increasing automation and data exchange in manufacturing ecosystems. In AM, this includes automation of processes such as powder removal, support removal and surface finishing that are otherwise time consuming and manually labor intensive, and can lead to inefficiencies and inherent lack of repeatability. Automation of these and other post processes provides a scalable factory solution and eliminates the brute-force of approach which is neither scalable nor repeatable.