History Being Made: U.S. Navy Uses 3D Printed Part in Osprey Aircraft

stainless steelBack in 1972, the amount of energy needed to produce a ton of stainless steel was 34% higher than it is today. Soon, it looks like it’ll take even less energy than that to create stainless steel equipment and other heavy-duty materials.

According to Stars and Stripes, the Navy is now officially the first service branch of the United States Armed Forces to utilize a 3D printed part for a military flight. While 3D printed parts are already being used by DIY garage inventors and high-tech engineering firms alike, the Navy’s latest adventure is still a major milestone for the technology.

“The flight went great,” said Major Travis Stephenson, the pilot of the test flight. “I never would have known that we had anything different onboard.”

Maj. Stephenson and the MV-22B Osprey aircraft completed a successful test flight while equipped with a 3D printed part in the assembly that secures the engine. While most consumer 3D printers use various types of plastic resins, the military is using a 3D printing process for metal parts. The assembly was created using a process known as additive manufacturing, which uses 3D digital design data to build components with various layers of metal.

“The flight today is a great first step towards using additive manufacturing wherever and whenever we need to,” said Liz McMichael, Integrated Product Team leader. “It will revolutionize how we repair our aircraft and develop and field new capabilities — additive manufacturing is a game changer.”

The Navy’s nest flight was just the beginning for this new technology. Military Embedded Systems reports that the Navy is already planning on implementing new 3D printed parts to the V-22 and other U.S. Marine Corps aircrafts. Because the additive manufacturing process will allow engineers to print aircraft components on demand, the replacement parts will serve as safety precautions. Three of these 3D manufactured parts will consist of stainless steel, while the other three parts will be titanium.

The ease of production is certainly a major benefit of the new manufacturing technology, but the quality of these steel products is even more impressive. Steel equipment manufactured today is 30% stronger than the equipment manufactured a decade ago, while also being much more dent resistant.

According to the American Iron and Steel Institute, steel is one of the most recycled materials on Earth, with about 88% of all steel being reclaimed and recycled.

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