AH Hub: How can AM help the aviation sector achieve its aggressive sustainability goals?

As companies across the aviation sector ramp up their focus on environmental sustainability, many are gravitating toward the numerous eco-friendly aspects of AM.

Given how nascent this manufacturing technique is, however, it’s understandable that questions—and adoption challenges—still abound. Here, we help you gain access to the information you need, through the insights of Burloak Technologies’ leading experts, so you can navigate this new terrain with confidence.

In this installment of AM Hub, Arash Bazrafshan, Director of Business Development at Burloak Technologies, explains how AM is successfully helping aviation manufacturers to achieve their sustainability goals.



Why is sustainability a current area of focus for the aviation sector?

Similar to most industries today, the aviation sector recognizes its impact on the environment over the last century. According to IATA, the commercial aviation sector used 57 billion gallons of fuel in 2021 alone, and at its peak, emitted over 900 million metric tons of carbon emissions.

This is driving aviation companies to seek out meaningful ways to decrease their environmental footprint – adding sustainability to their priority list, right alongside safety and efficiency, and seeking new ways to reduce fuel consumption and carbon emissions.  


At the recent Farnborough Airshow, strategies to combat climate change were front and center – and certainly not a hard sell during Britain’s worst-ever prolonged heatwave. Much of the conversation centered on innovative solutions that will help the aviation sector become a zero-emission industry by 2050 – from sustainable aviation fuel (SAF), to greater engine efficiency, hydrogen powered flight, electric propulsion technologies and small core gas turbines.  In addition to these futuristic solutions, there was also a focus on low emission manufacturing approaches, eco-friendly supply chains and the emergence of innovative new and lighter materials.  This is where AM really factored into the conversation, and it was great to hear so many industry experts discussing the environmental benefits of this leading-edge manufacturing approach.



How can AM help the aviation sector become more sustainable?

In their efforts to go green, many aviation OEMs are currently rethinking the way they build things.  AM, or 3D printing, is one of the strategies they can quickly embrace to achieve significantly greener parts, processes and planes. That’s because AM is inherently more sustainable – at the component level, on the manufacturing floor and in terms of driving more eco-friendly supply chains.


AM is sure to play a significant role in helping OEMs to bring their green innovations to life – not only because it is more sustainable, but because building eco-friendly designs with cutting-edge new materials and once-impossible geometries may not be possible using traditional manufacturing methods alone.



How does AM make aviation components more sustainable?

There are a number of ways that AM enables more sustainable parts for aviation applications. First and foremost, AM uses far fewer resources. Unlike subtractive manufacturing which removes material to create a form, AM builds a component using only the required materials. Less waste makes AM better for the planet and an OEM’s bottom line.

The next major benefit of AM from a sustainability standpoint is component lightweighting.  In the aviation sector, sustainability is nearly synonymous with lightness – the lighter the plane, the more fuel efficient and less emission-heavy it is.  Component lightweighting is already one of the most lauded advantages of AM for aviation – achieved through expert 3D printing techniques and innovative material selection.

Burloak has helped a number of aviation OEMs reduce the weight of their components. Doing this for a large number of components on a single aircraft – from simple brackets and valves, to pumps, rotors, heat exchangers, fuel nozzles, sensor housing units and other intricate assemblies – would present a significant opportunity to make the plane lighter and more fuel efficient. I think the most impressive thing about AM for component lightweighting is the fact that nothing is sacrificed in the process. AM processes enable us to effectively print highly complex and unique shapes and consolidate multiple components into one lighter, streamlined unit – ultimately producing parts that are stronger, more durable, higher performing and longer lasting.  



What are the other ways AM can reduce environmental impact for OEMs?

A McKinsey study stated that about 90% of a company’s’ impact on the environment is driven by its supply chain. By nature, AM is a low emission process and can help to reduce the environmental footprint of an OEM’s supply chain.  That’s because AM enables OEMs to build parts on-demand based on digital files – making only the components they need, when and where they are needed. This not only reduces the waste and cost of scrap and surplus inventory, it reduces the need for multiple prototypes and complex tooling, drastically reduces the transport of raw materials, components and finished products around the globe, and builds greater resilience into the supply chain.



What’s next for aviation’s sustainability journey?

Over the next few decades, innovation in the commercial aviation sector will largely be driven by the industry’s collective drive to reach its aggressive zero-emission target. Achieving this will be a long road and will require every player in the aviation ecosystem to be on board, driving this transformation.

AM is already at the table – a rapidly growing player in the aviation ecosystem as more and more OEMs awaken to the advantages of AM. Looking ahead, OEMs will seek to forge relationships with proven partners who have the capability to build eco-friendly aviation components at scale without ever sacrificing the repeatability, reliability and quality that is so critical in this highly regulated space.