Is Your Aerospace Business Ready for Additive Manufacturing? Get a Headstart with Mindware

5 min read

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Additive manufacturing (AM) is a perfect fit for the aerospace industry. Mathieu Cornelis, a member of Materialise’s consultancy team, explains how tailored training sessions help your business unlock AM’s potential.

Looking at today’s aerospace manufacturing scene, it’s clear that additive manufacturing (AM) for aerospace is no longer a niche technology. It’s a solution for both prototyping and serial production that even the industry’s biggest names have come to trust.

What makes additive manufacturing suitable for aerospace?

“There are two main reasons that AM fits the aerospace industry so well,” explains Mathieu Cornelis, Innovation Manager at Materialise. “Firstly, on a supply chain level. Many companies want to limit the number of manufacturers they use, simplify their databases, and produce parts digitally. All of these things help keep their processes lean and reduce risk.

“Secondly, AM adds value on a technical level, where design is often about topology optimization, weight reduction, part reduction, and so on. Of course, this rings a bell with the aerospace industry because every kilogram they can save on a part will greatly reduce the cost of things like fuel consumption, for example, over its lifetime. That matters to their customers. These benefits are particularly important to new aircraft developers and companies just entering the industry."

“Newer developers often use AM for rapid product development, so speed is very important,” he adds. “On the other hand, they can scale to certified manufacturing quite quickly because of the advantages I mentioned. AM can be an enabler for businesses when you consider the flexibility in production, the ability to design efficient, lightweight parts, and the lower total cost of ownership.”

What does Mindware do?

While awareness of AM’s benefits is certainly on the rise, getting started with the technology can be challenging. As a member of Mindware — Materialise’s consultancy branch — Mathieu's role is to guide businesses through their additive manufacturing journey, helping them adopt the technology and optimize their processes. While every journey is unique, most businesses can be categorized into one of three stages, known by the Mindware team as the Three E’s: Explore, Experiment, and Enable.

“In the Explore step, Mindware helps companies that don’t yet have a prioritized application, don’t know where to start, or which applications to find. We also help them in the Experiment phase, where companies start thinking about technologies, materials, design for additive manufacturing, and setting up some smart experiments. And then the Enable phase is all about optimizing processes; companies want to automate, focus on quality, or implement AM into their manufacturing facilities.

“All along this journey, we want to help these companies and set up long-term collaborations with the in-house expertise Materialise has built over the years.”

Bringing AM expertise to the aerospace industry

For the Mindware team, working with companies in the aerospace industry is very similar to most others. To date, most of their projects in this sector have focused on the Explore phase — providing expert training in AM and finding the right applications for the technology, both in terms of cost savings and innovation. But that doesn’t mean there aren’t noticeable differences between industries.

“I believe aerospace is rather innovative compared to other industries, but in some ways, it’s also very conservative,” says Mathieu. “Companies used to design and produce parts using the technologies they know, but AM adoption has certainly ramped up over the last five years. I think the GE fuel nozzle and 3D-printed blades were probably the eye-opener for the industry — you can really produce end parts with AM.

“What we’re focusing on now is awareness. Every industry has a case like this that acts as a trigger point to start with AM. But of course, you can’t start from scratch. You need to know what works and what’s there. That’s where we step in, to guide these companies on their trajectory.”

Mindware brings ample expertise to companies interested in starting or continuing their AM journey, but what sets the team apart is the nature of their knowledge. Rather than purely theoretical know-how, the consultancy provides information based on experience. Every lesson is provided by experts in aerospace production and connected to the fact that Materialise utilizes these practices in its own operations, including for partners such as Proponent and Airbus.

Identifying the ideal tailored training sessions

Building relationships with clients is a core concern for the Mindware team — more than helping ensure a long-term partnership, it’s a vital step in making each project a success. The initial conversations may often focus on a particular project, but digging deeper helps Mathieu identify where these companies really need help.

“Someone may come to us and say, ‘this is a part for aerospace — can you help optimize its design and produce a very bulky part in FDM.’ But we may then learn that they’re not aware of the advantages of the technology, for example, so it’s better to start at the beginning,” says Mathieu.

“Even with training requests, we’re often asked for very specific topics, like getting to know software for metal AM. And if we didn’t have this conversation, we wouldn’t know that they're unsure which parts to use it for. And then we know that they need a different kind of training, or to identify the right parts.

“It’s this back and forth with the customer that lets us really understand where they are on their journey and how we can best help them so they can do something with our expertise. We can teach them a lot, but if it’s too far away in their journey, it’s not easy to absorb, and that wouldn’t be useful for them.”

To help further raise awareness of AM’s potential and make these training sessions even more accessible, the Mindware team now offers tailored courses for aerospace businesses that can be requested online. Wherever they are on their journey, customers can create a curriculum that suits their needs and take advantage of the hands-on expertise Materialise has at its disposal. It’s a service that the team is happy to provide and one that they feel is important. After all, getting started with AM is not so simple as plugging in a machine.

“Training is definitely needed. It’s an opportunity to speed up their journey and to create different processes along that journey. But as I mentioned before, it’s not just theoretical — it’s training from a company that has gone through the full journey themselves, for themselves, and with partners. That’s our added value — we’ve gone through it, and we see value in you as well. That’s why we want to train you and create new partnerships in this aerospace field.”

If you think you’re ready to bring AM into your aerospace business, tailored sessions are available now. Explore them below, and learn how you can optimize your adoption of additive manufacturing.

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