Could 3D Printing be Negatively Impacting the Aviation Industry?

Did you know that according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA) that predictions estimate a near doubling of the 3.8 billion air travelers in 2016, to over 7.2 billion passengers to travel in the year 2035. (IATA Forecasts Passenger Demand to Double Over 20 Years). While there are a number of factors likely to contribute to this predicted uptick in air travel, definitely one of the most interesting would have to be the role played by 3D printing.

You read that right: 3D printing is going to play a major role in the aviation industry and it’s going to begin happening by next year. GE Aviation is in the works to debut their exclusive propeller plane engine that resembles more of a jet engine. Picture this, A plane engine that:

— burns significantly less fuel than other plan models in its class

— while still providing more power

— all while carrying a bargain, entry-level price tag at $4.8 million

Sounds too good to be true, right? Well, thanks to the technology of 3D printing the once-impossible is now, possible! The demand put on the aviation industry by the assumed increase in air travelers over the next 20 years has been met by companies like GE Aviation with emboldened design and mechanical engineering, and the use of 3D printing is the perfect example of this.

Design is best of jet and turboprop technology

Increased pressure and temperature inside the compressor and turbine, for example, is part of the dual jet/turboprop technology that allows the pilot to control the aircraft just like a jet (i.e., controlling the engine and the propeller with a single lever). In fact, this is technology is even more efficient than other equivalent engines; according to GE, this 3D printed design uses 10 percent more power and 20 percent less fuel than similar models.

This design also pays off in terms of lowering the overall maintenance costs, as judged by the time between engine overhauls, a fact that will quickly pay off as the number of air travelers is set to increase every year over the next two decades.

What does this mean for general aviation?

So are the latest 3D printed engine designs going to make it impossible for the traditional type of aircraft to compete? The short answer is no, not just yet anyway. While this design is a potentially momentous one in the direction of creating cleaner and more efficient aircraft technologies, GE’s latest engine is meant for small, single-aisle propeller plane seating of up to only 8 passengers. Moreover, the maiden voyage is not set to happen officially until 2018, so the results are yet to be determined.

Whether you endorse 3D printing or not, the demand for a more efficient and much larger air travel industry has undeniably created a need for newer technology to meet the demands of global air travelers–check back in to see how the 3D printing story develops overtime and see for yourself if this is the technology to do it!