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Aerospace 3D printing is an endeavor big name companies are already using in providing some parts for the planes of today and tomorrow. But you may not think about where those 3D printers are coming from. While creating aerospace parts from a 3D printer is becoming an American endeavor our own government has invested heavily in, the 3D printing equipment doesn't always come from here.
Right now, the leading company for aerospace 3D printing comes out of Sweden. This company is called Arcam, and it's a name that may become better known after their shares surged 530% this last year.
If you think that's bad for American 3D printer manufacturing, it's only because of some specific reasons. Arcam makes printers that are able to print out much more complex parts with less volume. Titanium is very expensive, and these printers help reduce the cost of this common aerospace material.
Regardless, Arcam's printers go beyond just saving money. They use a specific technology that's not yet a mainstream part of the 3D printing industry.
The Advent of Electron Beams in 3D Printing
Arcam uses a powerful system of using electron beams to melt metal powder during the production process. It's a sign that laser technology in 3D printing is starting to grow and necessary when creating metal parts. Because metal parts require more detailed resolution, the electron beams help make this happen on both a small and larger scale. It succeeds in helping produce more complex parts such as turbine blades for jet engines.
With Arcam's ability to make certain aerospace parts with less volume, parts can be made using the process of lightweighting. When a part is lightweighted, it becomes much more fuel efficient, which the aerospace can always use.
Because of this technology, Arcam is expected to be in huge demand for not only aerospace parts, but also other areas like implants. However, can they keep up with the demand for their printers when they're still considered a small company?
Acquisitions May Help Speed Things Up
According to Reuters, there's already concern that Arcam won't be able to provide enough 3D printers or materials to the companies wanting this technology. While some aerospace manufacturers are still being cautious on additive manufacturing of certain parts, American 3D printing companies still haven't quite caught up with the superior technology in printing with metals.
This may have to lead to Arcam being acquired by another company to speed things up. While acquisitions are expected and sometimes derided due to the creation of monopolies, it may have to be necessary here to help the aerospace industry become more efficient in their manufacturing.
Eventually, everything in aerospace may come from a 3D printer, including all manufactured things down here on terra firma.