Feb.19, 2014

3D printers could transform the manufacturing of airplane parts, because it's potentially cheaper, and can result in components that are more than 50% lighter than with traditional manufacturing methods.

European aircraft manufacturer Airbus reported this week that it is expanding use of 3D printing (additive layer manufacturing) technology to manufacture individual parts or even larger airframe structures for the company's line of aircraft.

Parts produced with this method are beginning to appear on a range of the company's aircraft – from the next-generation A350 XWB to in-service jetliners form the A300/A310 Family. The 3D printing technology offers greater manufacturing flexibility, a significant reduction in the manufacturing process' environmental footprint as well as cost- and weight-saving potential.

"We are on the cusp of a step-change in weight reduction and efficiency – producing aircraft parts which weight 30 to 55 percent less, while reducing raw material used by 90 percent," says Peter Sander of Airbus. "This game-changing technology also decreases total energy used in production by up to 90 percent compared to traditional methods."

Airbus bracket, made via 3D printing. (Source: Airbus)

For the A350 XWB aircraft, Airbus already has produced a variety of plastic and metal brackets. Airbus has collaborated with 3D printer company EOS to test and validate material and structural properties of 3D printed parts created using Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS). And now these parts are incorporated on the company's fleet of developmental aircraft.

Airbus' parent company, EADS, is a key partner in the European Space Agency's AMAZE project to perfect the printing of space-quality metal components. Last year Airbus started working with MIT's Center for Bits and Atoms to evaluate the digital material concepts and how it can potentially be applied to the design and construction of aerospace vehicles.

Airbus is also working toward spare part solutions with this technology, which is said to be ideal for producing cost-effective, out-of-production aircraft spare parts on demand. This month, the first "printed" component – a small plastic crew seat panel – flew on an Airbus customer jetliner, an A310 operated by Canada's Air Transat.

Sander said the lead time for such a part can be as little as one day, if the component is based on an existing design, while redesigned parts can be produced in less than two weeks.

"The aircraft of the future will have a 'bionic' fuselage, composed of complex parts printed using additive layer manufacturing," Sander argues. "This dream will come true."



Posted in 3D Printing Applications



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Peter Sander wrote at 2/21/2014 9:50:35 AM:

All these Tests and the part production have been performed with Concept ALM Machines (not EOS) Peter Sander

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