Boeing has formally opened its new additive manufacturing facility in Auburn, Washington. The new Center of Additive Manufacturing Excellence (CoAME) leverages 3D printing technology in the design and manufacturing of tools and parts for commercial airplanes, helicopters, spacecraft, and satellites.
“Additive manufacturing allows us to basically explore new ways of creating our products,” Melissa Orme, vice president of Boeing Additive Manufacturing (BAM), said during the opening ceremony on September 23. “We can create parts that are not possible practically or traditionally.”
The ability to 3D print tools and aircraft components gives Boeing a “competitive advantage,” said Orme, because machinists can’t typically create such items using traditional methods. 3D printing also can reduce the cost and weight of those structures while making them more robust and reliable, all while speeding the design and manufacturing process.
Additive manufacturing is also more environmentally friendly and sustainable than other methods because the process uses less energy and resources and creates fewer emissions, while waste materials created as byproducts of the process can be more easily recycled and reused. “So additive manufacturing really aligns with our company’s commitment to reduce the global impact or the carbon footprint,” Orme said.
The new BAM fabrication center actually opened for business in January 2020, but with little fanfare, as Boeing had to postpone the opening ceremony due to the Covid-19 pandemic. “So it’s been a while since we’ve been doing this, but this is the first time we’ve had the opportunity to celebrate it,” said Susan Champlain, director of government operations for Boeing’s commercial airplanes.
While the facility is comparatively new, Boeing is not new to additive manufacturing. The company has used additive manufacturing for more than three decades, starting with tools and polymer-added parts for fighter aircraft. Boeing installed the first 3D-printed metal part in a commercial airplane, in the 787 Dreamliner. Today more than 70,000 additively manufactured parts appear in Boeing products, Orme said.