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FAA’s AM Roadmap for Aerospace: Hold Your Horses

Posted on October 25th, 2017 by in New Materials & Applications

Image by U.S. Government [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

Image by U.S. Government [public domain] via Wikimedia Commons

The U.S. Federal Aviation Administration plays a critical role ensuring the safety of air travel passengers, but a strategic roadmap spanning out eight years regulating additive manufacturing seems glacial.

As reported by SpaceNews, a draft Additive Manufacturing Strategic Roadmap was submitted by the FAA in September for review by the agency management team.  The roadmap proposes to address the growing use of 3D printing in the aerospace industry from a safety and regulatory standpoint.  The goal is to establish guidelines, education and requirements for the production, certification, and maintenance of safety critical aerospace components.

Considering that new innovations in 3D printing seem to be announced daily and companies like GE with their LEAP engine fuel nozzle, Norsk Titanium’s structural component used in the 787, as well as Airbus and Safran Landing Systems hydraulic unit for the A350, industry is way out front on this.  To the agency’s credit, a guidance report published by the Research Engineering and Development Advisory Committee (REDAC) in November of 2015 recognized the rapid development of additive manufacturing techniques as well as the need for guidelines considering the incorporation of parts produced by the process.

The rapid pace of adoption is something that is publicly recognized by the FAA as a challenge:  “Three to four years ago, none of my peers believed we would see additive manufacturing of safety-critical parts,” Michael Gorelik, Federal Aviation Administration chief scientific and technical adviser for fatigue and damage tolerance, said at the recent Additive Aerospace Summit. “We don’t have them yet, but based on the leading indicators I see it’s coming and it’s coming fairly fast.”

As mentioned earlier, the FAA does play a critical role concerning public safety.  To put this in perspective, consider an example from my past as an engineer in the aerospace industry: The FAA certification requirements on turbine engine rotor blade containment.  In short, a jet engine is required to successfully contain a fan blade if one were to come loose at full power and allow the aircraft to successfully turn around and land.  If you’ve never seen a “blade out” test, they are truly impressive.  Here’s one of the Pratt & Whitney PW4098 – one of the last engines I was fortunate enough to help engineer.

As an engineer and a scientist, I can appreciate the magnitude and scope of the issues introduced by additive manufacturing.  Fundamentally changing the way components are manufactured, 3D printing touches many of the variables that impact aerospace component durability, quality, structural integrity and serviceability.  Government agencies absolutely have a role to play ensuring public safety.  Perhaps adopting an agile framework in partnership with industry could help put the regulatory cart after the horse adding industry rather than pulling back on the bridle of innovation.

What’s your experience with regulatory agencies affecting your company’s product line?  Tell us about your quest for unconventional knowledge and what it could mean for the future of your products or companies.  Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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