Many of us are all too familiar with Boeing’s use of program accounting and commitment to decrease costs of producing commercial jets over time. Additive manufacturing (“AM”, “3D-printing”), might be one way to help deliver efficiencies needed to reach the ~$40m projected program accounting cost per plane (vs. their current $265m) [1, 2].
AM uses computer-aided design to take digital images that can be used by professional-grade printing machines to manufacture parts through adding materials layer-by-layer vs. traditional manufacturing subtraction – as a result, this can decrease costs, while increasing efficiencies in several ways . First, AM allows developers to test, iterate, and build more effectively by not constraining production to molds and producing complex three-dimensional items with any geometry . Second, AM enables producers to combine separate parts into single units – for example, through it’s use of AM, GE reduced the number of parts required for fuel nozzles from 18 to 1, decreasing assembly costs and improving the manufacturing process . Last, by manufacturing through “additive means” rather than “subtracting”, companies can eliminate material waste, further decreasing costs . In one use of AM by Boeing, the company reduced the use of titanium by $2-$3m per plane or ~15% . In an industry that produces parts in small quantities, requiring them to be lightweight, strong, and geometrically complex, AM has significant potential for Boeing to produce parts that improve the performance of their jets and reduces costs in the process .
Although in many ways AM would seem to be too good to be true, it has its drawbacks. Aside from the upfront costs of the machines, AM is limited by the types and sizes of parts that can be produced, as well as the speed at which they can be produced (e.g. AM can produce ~1.5 inch cube / hour vs. multiple of the same size / minute for injection molding) . Even more, AM requires incredibly precise specifications across a vast number of parameters including materials (sizes, purities), designs (geometry), layouts (part orientation, proximity), processes (applied energy, inert atmosphere), and post-processes (heat treatment, surface smoothing) .
Despite these constraints, Boeing is already benefiting from AM and has demonstrated its commitment to the process by operating 20 sites using 3D-printing and producing over 50,000 installed 3D-printed parts to date across its programs . This commitment has been demonstrated by both short- and long-term investments in AM technologies. Boeing has already focused on collecting data necessary to drive AM processes and, in 2017 adopted Dassault Systemes’ 3DEXPERIENCE across its organization to consolidate data and determine ideal parts to produce through AM, create those processes, and improve all aspects of production . Further, in 2016 Boeing partnered with Stratasys Ltd.  and in 2017 signed a 5-year partnership with Oerlilken, to further expand AM to aerospace, advance the printing process, reduce complexities, and provide higher quality prints . Boeing is also thinking ahead to how it can protect the digital data it uses for 3D-printing, and in May 2018 signed an agreement with Assembrix to secure its inventory of 3D-printable parts . In August 2018, Boeing invested in Digital Alloys, a company working to develop high-speed, multi-metal AM systems, and Boeing believes that investments such as these will enable them to produce parts faster and in higher volume than ever before .
In addition to these efforts, I think Boeing should take a fresh look internally at their current manufacturing processes, especially regarding commercial jets. Within Boeing Space and Missile Systems, although AM alone did not offer advantages, the team was able to use AM alongside new materials to create a lighter-weight and lower-cost part for one of their spacecraft  – similarly, within the commercial jet division, teams should look for ways to combine processes and materials with AM to produce new parts at lower costs. Boeing should also be continually expanding its use of AM, even just in testing, in order to collect more of the data necessary to power future decisions to use AM for specific parts and ultimately design production specifications . Last, given the airline industry is highly regulated, Boeing should simultaneously focus externally to ensure they make progress on FAA approval for their AM processes and parts – the company will need to demonstrate consistent and repeatable processes, which should start now [4, 7].
As Boeing continues to adopt and invest in AM, improving costs and production across one of the most complicated pieces of manufactured equipment (airplanes), the question remains whether the upfront cost and time will ever be fully compensated by the savings or product improvements? Even more, if AM is eventually worthwhile for each individual part, could we reach a state where most components of an airplane are produced using AM or could an airplane become close to one part itself?
 Heese, J., Srinivasan, S., Lane, D., & Barnett, J. (2017). Accounting Turbulence at Boeing. Harvard Business School, 1. Acccessed November 7, 2018.
 Boeing Saves Millions in Manufacturing Costs with Titanium 3D Printing. (2017). Protolabs. Accessed November 7, 2018, from https://www.protolabs.com/resources/blog/boeing-saves-millions-in-manufacturing-costs-with-titanium-3d-printing/.
 Ford, S. L. (2014). Additive Manufacturing Technology: Potential Implications for U.S. Manufacturing Competitiveness. Journal of International Commerce and Economics. Accessed November 7, 2018, from https://188.8.131.52/publications/332/journals/vol_vi_article4_additive_manufacturing_technology.pdf.
 Alba, M. (2018). Are 3D-printed Planes Coming to a Sky Near You? Engineering.com. Accessed November 7, 2018, from https://www.engineering.com/DesignSoftware/DesignSoftwareArticles/ArticleID/16848/Are-3D-printed-Planes-Coming-to-a-Sky-Near-You.aspx.
 Boeing, 2017 Annual Report, p. 8, Boeing Investor Relations. Accessed November, 7 2018 from http://s2.q4cdn.com/661678649/files/doc_financials/annual/2017/2017-Annual-Report.pdf.
 Stratasys Builds 3D Printing Partnership with Boeing & Ford. (2016). Zacks Equity Research. Accessed November 7, 2018, from https://www.nasdaq.com/article/stratasys-builds-3d-printing-partnership-with-boeing-ford-cm670665.
 Szondy, D. (2018). Boeing and Oerlikon Team Up to Advance 3D Printing of Titanium Aerospace Components. New Atlas. Accessed November 7, 2018, from https://newatlas.com/boeing-oerlikon-titanium-3d-printing/53488/.
 Jackson, B. (2018). Boeing Collaborates With Assembrix to Secure 3D Printing. 3D Printing Industry. Accessed November 7, 2018, from https://3dprintingindustry.com/news/boeing-collaborate-assembrix-secure-3d-printing-133379/.
 Catalani, V. (2018). Boeing HorizonX Ventures Invests in High-Speed Metal 3D Printing Company Digital Alloys. Boeing Press Release. Accessed November 7, 2018, from http://investors.boeing.com/default.aspx?SectionId=5cc5ecae-6c48-4521-a1ad-480e593e4835&LanguageId=1&PressReleaseId=a05ac66c-bf19-4fc0-9812-0813e9428b08.
 Aston, R. (2017). 3D Printing Done Right. Boeing Innovation Quarterly. Accessed November 7, 2018, from https://www.boeing.com/features/innovation-quarterly/nov2017/feature-thought-leadership-3d-printing.page.