FAA Additive Manufacturing Road-Map In Review

The FAA (Federal Aviation Administration), responsible for regulating all aspects of the US civil aviation industry, has recently filed for review its additive manufacturing (AM) strategic road-map. The primary function of the document is to provide a set of guidelines by which the administration can certify and regulate AM parts and processes over the next five to ten years.  The road-map also includes regulation regarding machine and part maintenance, and lays forth the FAA’s goals for R&D as well as education and training.

It appears that the FAA has decided a proactive approach is necessary to handle the prospective deluge of AM products into the flight certification process.  Although only a few parts to date have been given the go ahead (see my GE LEAP engine blog), the aerospace and defense industry is buzzing with excitement over the potential of metal additive manufacturing.  This is a major stride for the industry according to Michael Gorelik, the FAA’s chief scientific and technical adviser for fatigue and damage tolerance.

“Three to four years ago, none of my peers believed we would see additive manufacturing of safety-critical parts,” he said. “We don’t have them yet, but based on the leading indicators I see it’s coming and it’s coming fairly fast.”

Aerospace & defense is one of the few industries that have been heavily investing in AM technology for production components and, as pioneers of the technology, has been influential on the emerging market and the direction of research and development.  However, due to the proprietary nature of AM technologies, there is an evident lack of industry-wide standards on which to build upon.   This road-map is the first step towards developing such a set of standards and could act as a catalyst for innovation in product and process design, quality assurance, and other aspects of the AM life-cycle that have been largely overlooked.

I expect that all players in the AM market – hardware, software, and material suppliers, as well as fabrication shops and engineers – will be intent on reviewing the document once it is officially released, as it will shape the aerospace & defense industry’s approach to AM and therefore have a significant effect on AM market as a whole.  This is one of many indicators that suggest the rapid growth of the metal AM market over the past few years is not likely to slow down soon, and goes to show just how young the industry is.