When it comes to 3D printing in aerospace, metals are often the conventional material. However, high-performance 3D printed ceramics possess a number of excellent properties which make them highly efficient, and especially well suited for use in extreme environments. This makes ceramics ideal for 3D printing parts for aerospace applications.
In this article, we explore the significant potential offered by ceramics, and how Lithoz’s LCM technology is changing the game for 3D printing and aerospace.
The impressive properties of ceramics
Currently, the widespread use of metals means that ceramics are rarely at the top of an engineer’s shopping list. However, the fact that metals quickly reach their natural limits under harsh conditions means that ceramics are gaining ever more prominence.
But what makes ceramics so well suited to harsh and extremely demanding environments?
High-performance ceramics possess incredibly high hardness, abrasion and heat resistance, and are resistant to hot corrosion and oxidation. Additionally, parts 3D printed with ceramic offer mechanical and dimensional stability, whilst maintaining mechanical strength at incredibly high temperatures. Ceramics also have an electrical and thermal insulation effect, adding to their utility for internal mechanical components.
Combine those excellent properties with the design flexibility of 3D printing, and you will explore a completely new dimension of aerospace applications.
3D printing ceramics for aerospace applications
It is widely known that additive manufacturing can produce parts that are more durable and complex than anything currently possible through conventional manufacturing methods. Moreover, when manufacturing components for space and aviation applications, it is vital that the chosen material will withstand even the most extreme thermal conditions. Therefore, 3D printing with ceramics offers the perfect combination for producing parts that are both highly complex and therefore more efficient, capable of performing in harsh and demanding environments.
Indeed, engineers are always searching for ways to increase efficiency, reduce consumption, limit waste, improve cooling, and achieve longer uptime. Combining the design freedom of 3D printing with the durability of ceramics offers the ideal solution for this.
One key benefit offered by this combination is the reduction of space debris. Thanks to their durability, ceramic parts can be used where even the toughest metals fail. Within an aerospace context, metals possess a shorter lifespan than ceramics, and will fail faster when exposed to extreme thermal conditions. These failed parts become space debris. Using ceramics reduces space debris as stressed parts show less wear under these extreme conditions.
Additionally, 3D printing with ceramics allows for the production of highly precise and intricate parts. Within spacecraft, parts ranging from thrusters and sensors, to complex aviation casting cores with intricate channels, require an incredible high level of precision and accuracy.
Within aviation, stricter emission regulations require ever more complex cooling channels in turbine blades to achieve better efficiency by more refined cooling. The traditional investment casting method is not able to produce such fine structures. 3D printed ceramic casting cores allow for much better design freedom, higher part complexity and ultimately the desired improved cooling effect.
A key benefit of using ceramics with a high dielectric constant and low loss factor is the fact that the higher the dielectric constant (at a stable loss factor) is, the smaller the filter can be designed. Therefore, these ceramics are ideal for LCM technology that offers unmatched precision, and which is optimized for 3D printing miniaturized parts.
Silicon nitride aerospike nozzles can also be 3D printed with Lithoz LCM technology, with Lithoz’s LithaNit material ideal for such applications. Due to their high strength, alkali and acid resistance, and especially its superior thermal shock resistance, these dark ceramics are perfect for aerospace components. Silicon nitride is ideal for 3D printing insulators, springs and turbine wheels.
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Featured image shows a fired silicon nitride nozzle. Photo via Lithoz.