Advanced additive manufacturing could enable planes that are 50% more fuel efficient

Pratt and Whitney is exploring making airplane engines with fewer parts using additive manufacturing (aka advanced 3D printing). Those parts would need less assembly and be cheaper to make. Frank Preli, chief engineer for materials and process engineering at the company, anticipates the possibility of radical new aircraft designs “like many engines embedded in a wing for ultra-aerodynamic efficiency.

Such a design could have many benefits, says Mark Drela, a professor of aeronautics and astronautics at MIT. Distributing engines along the trailing edge of wings and in the rear of the fuselage can theoretically cut fuel consumption by 20 percent and decrease an aircraft’s weight. These benefits “add up to very large fuel burn reductions,” Drela says. Savings of 50 percent “are not inconceivable.”

Additive manufacturing techniques need to improve to allow for higher precision. Once researchers understand the fine, molecular-scale physics of how lasers and electron beams interact with powders, he says, “that will lead to the ability to put in finer and finer features, and faster and faster deposition rates.”

This is a more efficient airplane design using smaller distributed engines. They were superconducting engines. Advanced additive manufacturing could enable a similar design

Another distributed engine airplane design

This was a plane design by Mark Drela, his MIT and NASA team, that would be 70% more fuel efficient

This is a more efficient airplane design using smaller distributed engines. They were superconducting engines. Advanced additive manufacturing could enable a similar design

Mark Drela had a 24 page paper on optimizing airplanes. Simultaneous Optimization of the Airframe, Powerplant, and Operation of Transport Aircraft

SOURCES- Technology Review, MIT

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