3D Printing Solutions for A&D Manufacturing

3D printing, commonly referred to as Additive Manufacturing (AM), has come a long way since the 1980s. While 3D printing was originally applied as a rapid prototyping tool, the manufacturing method has evolved into a number of different technologies.  

In a report by Stratview Research, in terms of global region, North America is forecasted to remain the largest market for A&D 3D through 2027. North America is the world’s manufacturing capital of A&D with the presence of many large-to small-sized players and raw material suppliers.

Other major 3D printer manufacturers, such as Asia-Pacific, is estimated to be the fastest-growing aerospace 3D printing market in the same period, primarily driven by an increasing presence of players to tap into the growing demand from key economies such as China, Japan, and India.

The applications and use of 3D printing includes many industries and sectors, but broadly includes visual and functional prototypes, tooling aids, and even end-use parts. The aerospace and defense (A&D) industry is one of the earliest adopters of 3D printing, with the first application dating back to 1989. Commercial aircraft, military aircraft, and space technology are examples of sectors where A&D industries have adopted additive manufacturing technology. In the aircraft 3D printing industry, in both the commercial aviation and military aviation sectors, some of the current applications include building 3D printed PMA replacement parts and designing complex aerospace parts.


In a report by Stratview Research, A&D represents a 16.9% share of the $10.4 billion additive manufacturing market (Stratview, 2023). Additionally, A&D market growth forecasts are predicted to reach $6,717.4 million by 2027. Overall, The aerospace industry is a major market for the U.S. In 2019, combined sales for the aerospace and defense industry reached $909 billion, an increase of 6.7% over the previous year. The majority of this revenue, – $399 billion – was driven by shared supply chains, that support both aerospace and defense (aia-aerospace.org). Based upon these estimates, the aerospace industry generates significant investment and revenue, which impacts overall growth of 3D printing in the field.

Additive Manufacturing in Defense Sector

The U.S. Navy is currently working on applications of 3D manufacturing at sea. According to Rear Adm. Jason Lloyd, chief engineer and deputy commander for naval sea systems engineering and logistics, the potential benefits for 3D printing of metal parts aboard ships at sea “is just huge” (March 17, 2023 retrieved from nationaldefensemagazine.org). Moving from traditional means of making metal parts to more advanced methods is a way to solve the supply chain issues. Current supply chain issues include parts made of heavy metals through casting and forging.


According to Matt Sermon, executive director of the strategic submarines program executive office, 3D printing is the path to supporting supply chain shortages. “I earnestly believe that metallic additive manufacturing is the path to the capability and capacity you need for critical materials in the submarine industrial base. And that same holds true for surface ships, and its systems, and for sustainment as well,” he said recently at the American Society of Naval Engineers annual conference in Arlington, Virginia.


Currently, the Navy is collaborating with suppliers to train efficient workers, but “that won’t be enough in the coming years,” Sermon said. The submarine sector alone is aiming to produce three boats per year, two Virginia-class subs and one Columbia class. Then there are modernization and sustainment programs.
“There is a war for talent. In particular, I’m talking about the manufacturing workforce,” Sermon said. Between the Navy, the major shipbuilders and their approximately 17,000 suppliers, there will be a shortage of some 100,000 workers on submarine programs over the next decade, the Navy estimated.


Other benefits of 3D printing at sea allows sailors to make lost or broken parts immediately without having to wait weeks, or even months, to have replacements delivered. According to Capt. Bennett Christman, the commanding officer of USS New Hampshire, “3D printers provide the opportunity for creative problem solving. These devices lower the barrier for component manufacturing, empowering sailors to take ownership of their repairs, and to think outside the box. Ingenuity and creative problem solving are core to our history as a submarine force. Fostering these values will pay dividends in the way Sailors approach all aspects of their jobs” (3Dprinting.com).

Additive Manufacturing in Aviation Sector

In addition to naval ships, Civil Aviation Companies such as Boeing and Airbus have been using the process to manufacture components.

In Oliver Wyman’s Global Fleet and MRO Market Forecast 2023 – 2033 assessment of the commercial airline industry, new production of aircraft to be delivered over the next 10 years will reach over 20,000. This study identifies most of the aircraft will be narrowbodies where the demand is the strongest. Oliver Wyman also forecasts narrowbody production to reach 1,550 by 2026. The increase in the size of the fleet is fueling demand. The application of 3D printing means aerospace will not just be disrupted. It will be transformed.


Considering the demands, multiple studies point to 3D printing as a primary viable option to meet supply and demand over the next decade as additive manufacturing offers:


  1. A more responsive method of aircraft production to meet ever-changing customer needs
  2. Cutting down production times for commercial airline manufacturers
  3. Modification of designs more quickly as new technologies, such as the development of new jet fuels or propulsion systems
  4. Repair times also will become shorter thanks to 3D printing of components

Boeing has applied 3D printing as a high-tech solution to meet the demand for replacement parts. In 2022, Boeing opened the Center of Additive Manufacturing Excellence in Auburn, WA, which employs nearly 100 people running 3D printers to make parts and components for aircraft. The Center has printers of all sizes, including one of the largest 3D printers in the world. According to Boeing Vice President for Additive Manufacturing, Dr. Melissa Orme, 3D printers make parts that can’t be made using traditional methods. The technology saves time, money and weight, which helps a plane’s fuel efficiency. “The whole value stream has the traditional aspects and it also has the new aspects, so basically a technology that adds jobs.” Other Boeing executives say unionized workers run the machines and remove the support pieces the printers leave behind. Workers still machine and wire the parts, and assemble them on the aircraft. “We really want to train more people, hire more people,” Orme said. “It offers an exciting path to more innovation.”

Boeing delivered the last 747, nicknamed, “Queen of the Skies,” to Atlas Air on January 31, 2023. The 747 is the most recognized airplane model in the world, and revolutionized travel on a global scale. While manufacturing of the 747 has ended, Boeing plans to continue servicing 747 parts until 2069, when the last 747 jet is projected to lose utility. Boeing has also added high-tech manufacturing solutions to meet the demand for commercial aircraft replacement parts. In fact, currently more than 70,000 3D printed parts appear in Boeing products. Boeing attributes many of its environmentally responsible manufacturing processes to 3D printers, while also printed on demand removing the need for a large-scale inventory of physical spare parts.

In 2017, Norsk Titanium AS, the world’s pioneering supplier of additive-manufactured, structural titanium components, joined Boeing in the production of 3D-printed structural titanium components for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner is the first commercial plane with a metal 3D printer installed. Boeing opted for 3D printing for the 787, because it requires more metal than its other models. According to Norsk Titanium AS, Boeing designed the components and collaborated closely throughout the development process.

To certify the initial structural components on the Dreamliner, Boeing and Norsk Titanium undertook a rigorous testing program with FAA certification deliverables completed in February 2017. Norsk Titanium, with their wire-based RPD™ process, is the first supplier for Boeing’s high deposition rate material specification.

Traditionally, manufacturing titanium alloy can be extremely costly, and as Boeing produces 144 Boeing 787 Dreamliner’s per year, thanks to 3D-printed titanium $2 to $3 million was off manufacturing costs per aircraft. The aerospace corporation’s partnership is a resounding recommendation for printed metals in the aviation industry and is proof that companies are starting to trust the manufacturing process and its resulting materials.

Additive Manufacturing in Aerospace Sector

European aerospace company Airbus Group, joined with Oerlikon AM and other ArianeGroup members for the production of 3D-printed parts for the new Ariane 6 rocket launcher. This effort is part of The European Space Agency’s (ESA) aim to assume a strong and independent position in space transportation using efficient launch vehicle technology. Ariane 6 is expected to play a key role in Europe’s space activities, including scientific exploration, Earth observation, telecommunications, and national security. It is designed for optimized flexibility and efficiency, to provide a reliable and cost-effective means of launching a wide variety of payloads into space, including satellites.


The joined manufacturing effort involves the supply of innovative, large, carbon fibre structures. 3D printed aluminum parts from Oerlikon AM will act as heat management devices (heat exchangers) for onboard equipment, supporting the performance and flexibility of the new rocket launcher. Ariane 6 is expected to make its first launch by the end of 2024.

Airbus builds up to four carbon fibre structures for each Ariane launcher at its Getafe site, near Madrid, Spain. Airbus’ new state-of-the-art 4.0 industrial facility includes a dedicated manufacturing and assembly line for the Ariane 6 launcher structures.


Application of additive manufacturing replaces former methods focusing on the rocket’s upper stage module, which takes over propulsion after the vehicle leaves orbit. According to Dr. Steffen Beyer, head of technology at ArianeGroup, in the propulsion module, tremendous forces develop demanding maximum levels of reliability and precision on a small scale. Former processing steps, including casting, brazing, welding and drilling, result in weak points, which pose risk under extreme conditions. The solution to manufacturing challenges is provided by additive manufacturing. “Only additive manufacturing can combine integrated functionality, lightweight construction, a simpler design, and shorter lead times in a single component” (https://aad3d.com/case-studies/). The Ariane 6 project team chose a heat-and-corrosion-resistant, nickel-based alloy (IN718) as the material. The material provides excellent tensile, endurance, creep and fracture strength at high temperatures, and will also be used with the new production technology. The results of the new injector head produced using additive manufacturing are extremely impressive. Instead of 248 parts, just one is used with the same functionality, and cuts down time to a minimum. The powder bed-based, industrial 3D printing technology from EOS made it possible. The additive manufacturing technology resulted in a reduced mass, while delivering a stronger structure in a single piece at a lower cost. The Interface Structure is the largest space carbon fibre structure ever produced in Europe. The other structures include the Launch Vehicle Adapter, for the upper stage, and the Equipped Solid Rocket upper part of each rocket booster.


In conclusion, 3D printing’s role in manufacturing, including the applications and use of 3D printing in A&D is expected to impact global aerospace and defense 3D printing market growth, along with growth in other sectors, however, indications suggest growth may be hindered by high acquisition costs associated with 3D printing and a lack of raw materials.



Since 2022, 3D Concepts Moto has been printing motorcycle parts. The father and son team, including Stuart, Paul, and Andrew Connell, got their start in the 3D printing industry when Stuart bought his first printer. Because of his “do-it-myself” personality, he naturally started printing anything he could think of, including parts for their own motorcycles. After showing the cool stuff made for their own dirt bikes and getting a lot of interest from friends, family, and the local Treasure Valley community, 3D Concepts Moto began.

The father and son team is composed of a retired construction and mining equipment engineer who used to race motocross, a car, truck, and motorcycle enthusiast, and a certified aircraft mechanic who loves to ride in the mountains. Together, we’ve been printing motorcycle parts for the past four years before starting 3D Concepts as a company.

Our motorcycle addiction goes back to the 1970s and 80s when father, Stuart, raced motocross in the Southwest part of the United States. Andrew and Paul’s first bikes were a Yamaha YZ-80 and a KTM 125SX. Andrew took to the dirt like a fish to water, while Paul’s interest peaked when he moved to Idaho in 2012, because of the amazing mountain single track.’’ The core values guiding 3D Concepts Moto’s vision stems from the application of custom parts on their own motorcycles. “We started making motorcycle parts for ourselves, because we wanted something better. Now we want to provide something better for our customers as well.”

The motivation behind 3D Concepts Moto’s vision is simple. We love to ride, and we love to build things! It’s our goal is to offer cost-effective, protection for critical off-road motorcycle parts for our customers. It’s these primary values that kick-started our business and is the fuel that motivates our success.