3D printing is grabbing all the headlines at the moment, and for the first time the RAF is reaping the benefits of the technology to create parts for its Tornado fighter jets.
BAE engineers created metal parts in a pioneering programme, which included protective covers for cockpit radios, support struts on the intake door and protector guards for Power Take-off shafts.
Each part has since been used successfully in test flights from the firm’s airfield at Warton, Lancashire. Engineers are now producing parts for four squadrons of Tornado GR4 aircraft at RAF Marham in Norfolk.
It is hoped the technology will reduce the RAF’s maintenance and service bill by more than £1.2m over the next four years. Production costs have already been dramatically reduced with some elements costing less than £100 to produce, already saving a whopping £300,000.
Mike Murray, head of airframe integration at BAE systems, said: “You can manufacture the products at whatever base you want, providing you can get a machine there.
“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.”
3D printing, works by building up layer upon layer of material to create complex solid objects (you can see it action in the video below). The technology recently caused a stir at annual tech tradeshow CES, and is being hailed by many industry commentators as the future of manufacturing in various industries.
And it seems the RAF isn’t the only one getting in on the action. Last September NASA announced that it plans to launch a 3D printer into space this year, to help astronauts manufacture spare parts and tools in zero gravity. Watch this space.