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See how 3D printing is used to make airplane parts

Step inside Honeywell's 3D printing lab to see how engineers are making aircraft components faster and lighter than ever before.

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Lexy Savvides
1 of 10 Lexy Savvides/CNET

3D printing lab

Engineers check machines that print aviation parts at one of Honeywell's labs. The process is known as additive manufacturing, which is often referred to as 3D printing. Some of these machines stand more than six feet high and print materials such as nickel-based alloys, titanium and aluminum.

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Additive manufacturing

Although we might be more familiar with the term 3D printing, the aviation industry uses the term "additive manufacturing" to describe how these parts are made. Materials such as nickel-based alloys are added to a base to make each component.

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Molding

Traditionally, airplane parts are made by pouring metals into molds in a foundry, a process that can take several months. 

Machines in Honeywell's labs can make aircraft parts faster than a traditional cast process. In some cases, a part that could take six months to make in a foundry could be reduced to two weeks with 3D printing.

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Casting vs. printing

On the left is a component that's been cast in a foundry then welded together. On the right, its counterpart printed as one entire piece. Printing can cut down the weight of components, which leads to better fuel efficiency.

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All shapes and sizes

A top-down look at some of the components made at Honeywell's labs.

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Inside the 3D printer

A look inside one of the machines as it starts a job.

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Parts are ready to be removed

Two parts emerge from underneath a pile of metal powder once the job is done. The material deposited around these parts will get vacuumed up.

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The finished product

This is what they look like after they've been taken out of the printer.

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Getting flexible

This is a cross-section of a D-strut, used to dampen vibrations. It's like a spring or a shock absorber in a car. The part needs to be flexible and hold helium without leaking. Honeywell tried several designs before coming up with this version that squeezes like an accordion. It's made from nickel-based alloy.

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Tiny details

3D printing can even be used to make really tiny components.

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