Boeing may be turning to 3D printing to produce more of the very thing that poses serious safety risks to its planes: ice.

Frozen water can have a dramatic effect on a plane’s aerodynamics as it clings to the body and wings, causing turbulence and potentially crashes.

Simulating and testing dangerous conditions is key to improving air safety, and Boeing may be homing in on a novel solution: 3D printing plastic ‘ice’ to simulate real ice growth during flight.

According to a patent recently filed, the ice can be printed in a range of shapes that adhere to wings, flaps, and engine parts. This simulated ice can then be attached to a craft with adhesive, and used to test the aircraft’s ice removal capabilities.

While initially this approach might seem excessive, the process is faster, and causes less wear on the aircraft, than current testing techniques which require fiberglass resin that is bolted to the aircraft, rendering it unusable for future commercial use.

Other airlines have already begun to explore 3D manufacturing, with Airbus producing parts for their jetliners out of additively manufactured titanium and slashing costs in the process.



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