Eyes on the prize

In aerospace, 3D printing moves closer to its full-production promise

Tony Velocci
9 December 2020

6 min read

For decades, 3D printing has been hailed as a way to revolutionize manufacturing, particularly in aerospace. With its ability to fabricate strong-yet-lightweight structures in a variety of materials, proponents still envision leveraging 3D printing to produce aerospace components on demand – once a few remaining challenges are addressed.

Additive manufacturing (AM), which involves constructing solid objects by adding layer upon layer of material, has been a dream in the aerospace industry for decades. To date, AM – also known as 3D printing – has been used mostly to create quick-turn prototypes of parts for evaluation and testing. But using AM parts in full production, especially for airplanes that will fly thousands of people per day, has not yet come to fruition in the safety-conscious industry.

Although only about 1.5% of aerospace parts are currently manufactured using additive manufacturing (AM), experts estimate that up to 30% of parts could safely be manufactured today by 3D printers. (Image © AdobeStock)

That paradigm appears poised to shift, however. Airlines and third-party maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) companies, for instance, would like to fabricate their own spare parts and components as needed, instead of relying on the original equipment manufacturers (OEMs) that design and build their aircraft. Many MRO services providers, therefore, have latched onto AM’s potential and started applying additive manufacturing to the aftermarket, especially for parts that do not impact safety.

Emirates Engineering, for example, the Dubai-based technical arm of Emirates Airlines, partnered with 3D Systems, a leading AM equipment provider, to produce a video monitor shroud and air vent for use in cabin interiors. Such small inroads, experts say, could open the door to wider applications of 3D printing for aerospace parts.

"You’ll see 3D printing begin to transform manufacturing across aerospace due to the freedom of design it will enable.” 

Klaus Mueller
Aerodynamic Advisory

“More broadly, the industry could additively manufacture at least 30% of the components now flying on commercial aircraft, up from about 1% to 1.5% now,” said Klaus Mueller, senior advisor to Aerodynamic Advisory, a consulting firm specializing in aviation and aerospace strategy. Mueller also serves as a senior consultant for Bionic Production AG and Fraunhofer IAPT, two of Germany’s leading additive manufacturing institutes.

Using new technology cautiously

By necessity, commercial aerospace is a cautious industry, where new technologies are adopted only after exhaustive testing; priority number one is helping its airline customers keep air travelers safe.

While companies have successfully 3D-printed non-flight-critical components, volumes are relatively small. As a result, 3D printing remains in its early stages across the airframe and engine supply chain, said John Schmidt, who leads Accenture’s global Aerospace and Defense consulting practice.

Bell Helicopter, which has been employing additive manufacturing to produce parts since 2006, can attest firsthand to both the potential and the limits of 3D printing. The company uses AM to make about 200 parts, mostly with laser-sintered nylon.

“The team has really advanced Bell’s additive manufacturing applications, but we’re still a ways out from mass production,” said Justin Rivera, engineering specialist for Bell Helicopter’s Manufacturing Technology department. “The irony is that aerospace is where scientists and engineers routinely push the technology envelope,” Accenture’s Schmidt said.

Hurdles to overcome

A combination of regulatory, technical, cultural and economic issues lies at the heart of AM’s limited progress to date in aerospace.

For all its unique capabilities, 3D printing must perform like any other manufacturing technology. For one, it must be cost effective, and additive manufacturing generally isn’t yet ready to mass-produce components affordably, Mueller said.

“It comes down to raw economics,” Schmidt said. “It only becomes attractive if the weight reduction or the ability to produce a complex part that otherwise couldn’t be fabricated any other way can be shown to improve the total cost of ownership.”

That’s especially true when factoring in the time and cost of having to recertify a 3D-printed component to ensure it meets the same quality-control standards as the conventionally manufactured part it is intended to replace.

Complicating matters is that the industry has developed very few quality and reliability standards for 3D-printed parts, said Scott Killian, business development manager, Aerospace, for EOS, which supplies metal and polymer laser-sintering AM machines, materials and services. Glenn McDonald, a principal at AeroDynamic Advisory, also notes that certification of components by the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) can still take up to two years.

“The process is long and arduous,” said Tom Kurfess, chief manufacturing officer at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), a federally funded research and development facility that is working closely with multiple industries to perfect AM. Manufacturers must be able to certify 3D-printed parts based on a repeatable process that can consistently and reliably yield the quality ] that designers expect at a cost that makes 3D printing the clear choice over other processes. That’s the holy grail,” he said.

Rendering of a lightweight aerospace assembly optimized for additive manufacturing (AM). (Image © CATIA Function-Driven Generative Designer)

The challenge, Kurfess said, is that consistently producing reliable parts is an ongoing difficulty for AM. Using the same settings, for example, can lead to differences in producing the same part. The list of factors that can impact the quality of a final part is lengthy and includes, among other things, part orientation with the build platform, machine calibration, material quality and how parts are removed from a build.

“All of the process variables must be strictly defined and controlled to enable a successful print each and every time, which is no small feat,” Kurfess said.

Another issue is that machines used for 3D printing generally don’t meet users’ expectations, said Laura Ely, a former leader of GKN Aerospace’s AM initiatives who is now an industry advisor at the Barnes Group, an engineered products manufacturer. “If you buy a standard CNC (computer numerical control) machine, you expect it will require very little tweaking,” she said. “That’s not the case with today’s 3D printing machinery, which tends to require extensive adjustments due to their current level of maturity.”

Morf3D Aerospace leverages advanced additive-manufacturing (AM) design rules to enhance the technology’s capabilities. (Image © Morf3D)

A closely related challenge is the insufficient number of education programs to qualify more AM machine operators. Broad estimates of the number of available operators range from fewer than 1,000 to around 3,000. Much of the discrepancy can be traced to how a fully qualified AM operator is defined, since AM involves multiple disciplines.

What professional manufacturing trade groups can agree upon is that there’s a critical shortage of 3D printing skills, and the rate at which new operators are entering the field is unlikely to keep pace with demand for the foreseeable future. Manufacturers are struggling to find the skilled workers needed, despite an increase in industry and government-sponsored training programs, according to many organizations that include Society of Manufacturing Engineers and the US Chamber of Commerce.

In Europe, the Sector Skills Strategy in Additive Manufacturing (SAM) consortium recently completed a study on AM workforce training and discovered a critical shortfall. SAM’s goal is to gather the information needed to rapidly expand tailored training programs. Then there is the pressing need to train product designers to think in terms of using additive manufacturing when they conceptualize products, to ensure that they can be made and certified as airworthy

Given the hurdles, it would be easy to conclude that AM’s future in aerospace production manufacturing is not as bright as once thought. Not so, experts say.

Bright future

The launch of next-generation commercial aircraft programs by Airbus and Boeing is widely expected to put AM on a steep growth curve, although the two rivals are unlikely to make those multibillion-dollar investments until the mid- to late 2020s, Accenture’s Schmidt said. The reason? The global pandemic decimated passenger traffic, forcing cash-starved airlines to postpone their fleet-modernization plans.  

Before OEMs announce their plans to introduce next-generation aircraft and put them into production, air travel demand will need to recover. That is not a question of if, but when – at which point the opportunities for commercial aviation equipment suppliers to exploit 3D printing will multiply many times over, industry players agree.    

Robust outlook

The benefits of AM remain clear, along with its potential to support commercial aerospace manufacturing on a large scale, as it’s now doing in the space and automotive industries, Mueller said.

For example, additive manufacturing is moving quickly to meet even greater requirements including complete, 3D-printed combustion chambers with high-performance features, lighter weight structural components and even fully 3D-printed satellites.

“3D printing allows innovative solutions by reducing part count and production costs found with conventionally manufactured components.”

Justin Rivera
Bell Helicopter

“While still in its infancy for global acceptance and certification on in-service aircraft, 3D printing allows innovative solutions by reducing part count and production costs found with conventionally manufactured components,” Bell Helicopter’s Rivera said.

AM also continues to mark new milestones through persistent innovation, including flame-retardant vents, camera mounts and housings for the Mars Rover test vehicles. As additive manufacturing continues to evolve, manufacturers and government regulators are collaborating to address AM’s biggest challenges.  

“What everyone needs to understand is that 3D printing is under-exploited across aerospace and has lots of room for growth,” Schmidt said. “The unveiling of next-generation platforms by OEMs is when AM will really take off.”

Learn more here on additive manufacturing / 3D printing for aerospace production 

Outsourcing outcomes

Software providers who guarantee results are attracting enterprise buyers’ attention

Lindsay James
3 December 2020

5 min read

By moving away from traditional software licensing in favor of software partners who are willing to deliver outcomes, businesses have an opportunity to reduce risk and realize quantifiable results. These approaches, known as Outcome-Based Engagement and Outcome-Based Services, offer attractive alternatives for clients who need a different model for software-enabled work.

The global market for the enterprise software that large companies use to run their businesses reached US$477 billion (393 billion euros) in 2019, Statista reports. But why?

In reality, no business buys software because it wants to own software. It buys software (or rents it on the cloud) because it wants the benefits the software can deliver, from sharper financial insights to improved collaboration among widely dispersed teams. So, instead of selling software, shouldn’t software companies sell the results their software can deliver?

As it turns out, a few innovative firms are doing just that – and finding that the COVID-19 pandemic has made increasingly risk-averse business buyers receptive to the idea.

“We are living in an uncertain world at the moment, and the current pandemic is only amplifying existing pressures,” said Bill McBeath, co-founder and chief research officer at Massachusetts-based analyst firm ChainLink Research. “With traditional software licensing models, whether perpetual license or software-as-a-service subscriptions, the solution provider gives some guarantee that the software will perform and that they will fix bugs that arise. But they provide virtually no guarantee that the software will be adopted effectively, deliver the promised outcomes, or generate the promised return on investment [ROI].

“All of that performance risk is on the buyer and users of the software. As a result, some companies are starting to look for more substantive, financial-consequential assurances from their third-party vendors that the claimed ROI will materialize.”

A new approach

The Global Outsourcing Association reports that 89% of both buyers and service providers increasingly favor software contracts based on outcomes. By shifting responsibility for implementation, maintenance and negotiated results (outcomes) to the software provider, Outcome-Based Engagements (OBEs) increase the likelihood that companies will achieve their targeted business goals. In return, vendors receive a share of the financial benefits that accrue to the buyer — a number that can be significantly larger than the list price of the software licenses and a consulting engagement.


of both buyers and service providers increasingly favor software contracts based on outcomes.
Source: Global Outsourcing Association

“With an outcome-based approach, value is driven by a joint commitment to achieve a specific outcome,” McBeath said. “Clients and service providers come to agreement on a set of well-defined, measurable outcomes they want to achieve, with financial penalties and/or rewards to motivate the service provider to help deliver on them.”

It’s a win-win scenario.

“The service provider’s interests become much more aligned with the client’s,” McBeath said. “Both parties tend to become more invested in the relationship. Quite apart from a ‘license-and-leave-you-to-it-approach,’ an outcome-based model provides a level of guarantee of the results. By having skin in the game, the vendor is sharing the risk with the client. It’s an approach that, when done correctly, can result in a stickier, more embedded relationship.”

Quite apart from a ‘license-and-leave-you-to-it-approach,’ an outcome-based model provides a level of guarantee of the results.

Bill McBeath
Co-Founder and Chief Research Officer, ChainLink Research

Outcome-Based models come in two basic varieties: Outcome-Based Services, which often involve one-time or short-term projects; and full-scale, longer-term Outcome-Based Engagements.

In the case of Outcome-Based Services, the client prefers not to execute the project itself. Instead, it hires the software supplier to do the work and deliver the results. For example, a client might hire an engineering software company to design a product, process or space, and then to virtually test the results, proving that the design meets the client’s objectives. In such cases, the client buys the results: a proven design that delivers on the client’s goals.

Outcome-Based Services are particularly attractive to clients who have a one-time or short-term need, lack staff trained in using the software, or have more work than its own employees can complete in the available time.

In an Outcome-Based Engagement, the client has an ongoing need for what the software can accomplish but wants guaranteed results. In this case, the client and the software provider analyze the client’s needs and agree to pre-defined, measureable objectives. If the objectives are met the software provider earns a premium fee.

Especially in situations where the client and the software provider have a long and trusting relationship, the client may further incent the software supplier by paying it an amount equal to a pre-determined percentage of the benefits achieved for the client.

Could you benefit from OBE?

Modeling success

For GEA, a German food-processing technology supplier, an outcome-based services approach has proven to be a positive choice.

Following the COVID-19 lockdowns in Germany, GEA hired its software provider’s expert team to model its employee cafeteria as an Outcome-Based Service. The firm wanted to analyze the airflow around the communal space and the safest scenarios for bringing employees back to work.

“The full canteen is modeled,” said Eric Nitzsche, vice president of Engineering Standards & Services at GEA. “Our vendor built a 3D model with all parameters set and then simulated how the virus might spread as people move around. It’s been an incredibly effective tool.”

By virtually modeling its cafeteria and simulating its airflows, GEA discovered high-risk areas for COVID transmission and how to eliminate or avoid them. Outsourcing the project as an Outcome-Based Services engagement delivered better results in less time than GEA could have achieved alone. (Image © GEA)

Having those simulations increased the company’s confidence in its reopening plans. “The simulation we have in our hands is very valuable in how we make decisions,” Nitzsche said. “We know what we need to do now. This is great progress for us.”

The vendor’s experience also improved the outcome. “What I really liked is the agile approach the vendor took,” Nitzsche said. “They asked questions that we wouldn’t have even thought of, which allowed us to tap into innovative new ideas. Ultimately, an outcome-based approach eased our life somewhat dramatically. It allowed us to focus on the most important thing for us: our business.”

Ultimately, an outcome-based approach eased our life somewhat dramatically. It allowed us to focus on the most important thing for us: our business.

Eric Nitzsche
Vice President of Engineering Standards & Services, GEA

Some Outcome-Based Engagements, however, are so vital to a company’s competitiveness that the clients prefer not to be named. One such case: a large vehicle manufacturer that partnered with its software supplier to outsource the manufacturer’s process for complying with the Worldwide Harmonized Light Vehicles Test Procedure (WLTP) certification.

The certification, which gives consumers and regulators consistent information on fuel efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions of traditional, hybrid and fully electric cars and motorcycles worldwide, requires a separate wind tunnel test for each configuration of a vehicle. If a vehicle is available with a dozen different combinations of external features, the standard requires a dozen separate wind tunnel tests. If the vehicle comes in different versions – sedan, wagon and SUV, for example – a total of 36 separate tests would be required.

For every manufacturer to physically test every variant of every vehicle in a wind tunnel would take more time than the world’s available facilities can support. Therefore, regulators are permitting automakers to run simulated tests on their vehicle variants – if they can demonstrate that the simulations are designed and implemented to accurately predict the results of a physical wind tunnel test.

Developing and certifying the simulation process and results requires significant investment, time and specialized staff. Any delay in receiving certification could cost an automaker billions of dollars. Therefore, the automotive manufacturer’s software partner developed a certified process to run the simulations, generate all documentation, and submit results to the regulators. The process can certify an entire vehicle family in days, not weeks, with accuracy comparable to that of physical testing. The turnkey solution eliminates the need for the automaker to build an expensive physical wind tunnel that it might only use a small percentage of each year.

A broader palette of solutions

Outcome-Based Engagements and Outcome-Based Services are not for everyone. The larger the commitment, the more important the ground rules and measurements become. This is especially true when a software vendor takes on the responsibility of implementing and managing business-critical software inside their customer’s business.

“An outcome-based business model requires a deep and trusted relationship between the vendor and the customer,” McBeath said. “Perhaps the biggest challenge, however, is agreeing on the specific business outcomes, how they will be measured, and how rewards will be shared.

“That challenge explains why an outcome-based approach isn’t right in every situation,” McBeath said. “For the right high-value use cases, between customers who are willing to put in the effort to carefully agree on a very well defined set of KPIs and the right vendor willing to share the risk and reward, this can be a very attractive proposition.”

Learn more about the value of OBE

Click here for an expert’s perspective on OBE

Shared success

Why companies are changing how they ‘buy’ software

Lionel Burgaud

3 min read

The disruption of COVID-19 has prompted business leaders to rethink many assumptions and practices. Buying enterprise software – rather than buying the outcomes the software can deliver – is one long-standing practice that many are reevaluating.

Industry analysts are tracking many fundamental changes in the business landscape since the pandemic’s onset, including a radical change in business philosophy: Having just experienced the high cost of disruption, many businesses are shifting their cost-risk calculations to give equal weight to actions that can lower their risks – even when those options cost more.  

One significant way for businesses to lower their risks and increase their success is to share responsibility with their software partners for achieving concrete benefits from business-critical, enterprise-level software. The goal: to ensure that the software provider will be fully committed to achieving the client’s business goals for the project. The incentive: compensating the software company based on the benefits it generates for the client’s business.

This approach, which focuses on business results and shares both risks and reward, is the basis of software-benefit models known as Outcome-Based Engagement (OBE) and Outcome-Based Services.

With OBE, the software provider and client agree at the outset on the business goals the software must achieve for the client and how that achievement will be measured. The software provider takes responsibility for the software and for achieving its benefits for the client, with compensation based on actual deliverables and results.

Yes, OBE costs more than purchasing software licenses and paying annual renewal fees. But it virtually eliminates the client’s risk of failing to achieve the business benefits that the software can deliver. If the software does not deliver the expected results and value, the client pays nothing. If it succeeds, the software provider is compensated based on the value it has actually created for the client.

“For those who want to minimize their risks, accelerate their successes and de-stress their work lives, Outcome-Based Services and Outcome-Based Engagement can be game-changers.”

While OBE envisions a long-term relationship between client and provider, Outcome-Based Services generally have a shorter duration. In this context, the software provider does not deliver the software to the client at all; instead, it uses the software to perform work on the client’s behalf. Such services also reduce or eliminate the cost of training the client’s team to use the software, and it shortens the time-to-benefit.

Could you benefit from OBE?

Outcome-Based Services are especially helpful when a client lacks the time to implement, or when they have a one-time need. For example, when officials in Wuhan, China, needed to build the Leishenshan Hospital in 14 days to handle a surge in COVID-19 patients, they wanted to predict and prevent virus dispersal via the hospital’s ventilation system. They did not have time to acquire, implement and learn how to use 3D modeling and simulation software, so they hired the software provider to do the work for them. The hospital paid the software company a set price for the results and insights.

In another healthcare example, a pharmaceutical manufacturer needed to qualify a complex syringe-filling machine and all of the systems and processes used to operate it. The project also involved validating the formulation process and robotized control stations in an atmosphere-controlled area.

The client needed assurance that the system could go into production without incident. Their software partner used “hardware-in-the-loop” modeling and simulation to pre-test and pre-validate the entire system and develop needed training and operating materials.

For some clients, Outcome-Based Services is a one-time experience. For others, it becomes a preferred model. Either way, these services deliver a taste of the software’s benefits. The client may subsequently decide to purchase the software via a classic, license-based business model. Or, once they have experienced the shared-goal, low-stress reality of an Outcome-Based approach, they may want the benefits without shouldering the full responsibility of getting them. Such clients then move forward with their software partner in a full OBE model.

Clients with large, sophisticated IT staffs may always prefer to implement and maintain their software, so the traditional license model will not disappear any time soon. For those who want to minimize their risks, accelerate their successes and de-stress their work lives, however, Outcome-Based Services and Outcome-Based Engagement can be game-changers.

Learn more about OBE

Click here for examples of outcome-based projects

Stay up to date

Receive monthly updates on content you won’t want to miss


Register here to receive a monthly update on our newest content.