Boeing is conducting tests on the use of 3D printing for producing parts for the Apache helicopter, as reported by 3DPrinting.com.


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Boeing is gearing up to conduct a groundbreaking test for its AH-64 Apache attack helicopter by using a fully 3D printed main rotor system. This innovative initiative aims to tackle long lead times and improve supply chains for traditionally forged parts. The recent Association of the U.S. Army conference witnessed a collaborative display by Boeing and ASTRO America, where they showcased a 3D printed main rotor link assembly. This crucial component was fabricated using the world’s largest 3D metal printer located at Rock Island Arsenal in Illinois.

ASTRO America, a nonprofit organization supported by the U.S. government, secured a $95 million Army contract to strengthen the additive manufacturing of large components. Their ambitious Jointless Hull Project exemplifies this mission, utilizing a powerful machinery capable of 3D printing an entire M1 Abrams tank hull. In comparison to the conventional one-year lead time for forging, the 3D printing process for the main rotor link assembly, which involved 6,000 series aluminum, took a mere eight hours.

Next year, Boeing plans to 3D print and evaluate main rotor system components against their conventionally forged counterparts. Interestingly, several parts demonstrate greater durability when 3D printed, surpassing the longevity of traditionally manufactured parts. However, factors such as existing supply chains can influence the decision-making process.

It is evident that this development in additive manufacturing technology has substantial implications for the defense industry. By leveraging 3D printing, the production of complex components can be significantly expedited, thereby reducing lead times and streamlining the supply chain. Moreover, the durability and performance advantages presented by 3D printed parts are noteworthy, and it will be fascinating to witness their potential integration into future military systems.

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