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The Shape of Things to Come 3D printing has been around for years, but its use is still in its infancy in the helicopter industry. Vertical asked the major OEMs how they are getting to grips with the technology — and what its potential might be. By Howard Slutsken 3D printed parts slowly increasing in popularity in the helicopter industry. Above are a range of those used by Bell Helicopter. 116 Ver tical M aga zine Imagine that your ink-jet printer has gone wonky. It’s sitting on your desk, running its print head back and forth for hours, continually print- ing one word. Once the unruly piece of technology is under control, you manage to pull out the paper. You can see, and feel, that the word “ROTOR” has been built up from the paper’s surface. If you scrape it off, the word will sit on your desk, like a paperweight. That’s the essence of 3D printing. In real life, it’s more likely that your ink-jet would have seized up, and the ink would be a giant blob on the page, but true 3D printers have been available to hobbyists for years. Fed with plastic, metal or resin, these printers are driven by computer programs; and data files to pro- duce just about anything can be found online. 3D printing is a form of additive manufacturing (AM), where layers of a material are built up to create a component. More familiar to most, subtractive manufacturing (SM) is the opposite of AM, where a block of a raw material, such as aluminum, is machined until the component reaches its final form. Where SM can be used to rapidly produce large quantities of parts, each AM part might take hours to create — at least, for now. AM is being embraced by the aerospace industry, as a tool to devel- op, prototype, and create components for aircraft. In this look at AM, Vertical reached out to several helicopter OEMs, but there are also many smaller companies and subcontractors investing heavily in this manufacturing sector.