Dec 2, 2015 | By Alec

The aviation industry is clearly at the forefront of high quality metal 3D printing innovation, and as you might have noticed Airbus is particularly interested in the technology. A large number of small parts, often with complex shapes, are already being 3D printed for use on Airbus aircraft – earlier this month a partially 3D printed Airbus engine was even tested. However, they are not just taking existing tools and applying them to their planes, as Airbus is also experimenting with completely new manufacturing options. Together with Autodesk’s The Living design studio, they have just developed a large ‘bionic’ partition for the A320 Airbus, that has been 3D printed in a new super-strong, lightweight alloy called scalmalloy, using direct metal laser sintering technology.

While 3D printed metal parts can be found all over the place on the outside and the mechanics of the Airbus nowadays, this is the first time metal 3D printed parts are designed for the plane’s cabin. Partitions are currently obviously already in place, but this new ‘bionic’ partition that comes in separate pieces is not only stronger than the existing model, but also 55 pounds lighter. It will be used to separate the passenger cabin in the rear galley. These replacements will be tested in early 2016, and if successful they will be manufactured for every new A320 starting next year. That could, the company said, remove up to 96,000 tons of CO2 due to weight efficiency.

Photos: Jeff Yoders

Autodesk’s own design studio The Living played a key role in the development process. As the studio’s leader David Benjamid revealed, the partition falls apart into a  series of separate components. ‘The goal was to reduce its weight by 30%, so generative design was really a necessity. We had very clear goals and constraints. The partition can only attach to the fuselage at four points. You need to be able to cut out parts of the partition to allow a stretcher into a cabinet if necessary. We combined biology, computation in design and a living organism plan followed,’ he says. However, the final result was up to 45 percent lighter, and could shape a new precedent for cabin design. When the same principles are applied to the entire cabin, Airbus estimates that 465,000 metric tons of C02 emissions can be eliminated per year – or taking up to 96,000 cars off the road.

That biological inspiration can be seen in the web-like assembly of connected nodes that minimize material usage. What’s more, the structure has been designed in such a way that one or more of the nodes could break in, say, a crash and the structure will stay right where it needs to be. In total, 122 3D printed parts are needed – 3D printed in seven separate batches. It has been designed using custom algorithms that generated a cellular structures – particularly suitable for the high-strength, low-weight requirements of aviation parts.

Obviously, the material used for 3D printing is also key in the structure’s efficiency. The mysterious scalmalloy is a main component, an aluminium-magnesium-scandium alloy created by Airbus subsidiary APWorks and 3D printed in a direct metal laser sintering 3D printer. ‘Scandium (a rare earth additive in scalmalloy) gives it its strength performance,’ said Bastian Schaefer, Innovation Manager at Airbus. ‘It has a very high-yield of strength. We tested it up to rupture and it performed better than any other current alloys.’ It will also stretch before breaking due to these excellent mechanical properties.

The only downside is that the material is slow to 3D print, but Shaefer added that improved 3D printers would make scalmalloy a very interesting option. ‘The load build rate is an issue, but in the next three years we believe that will get better,’ he said.

Airbus further revealed that this generative design, which was made possible by harnessing infinite CPUs through the cloud, could do a lot more for 3D printed parts in terms of meeting very specific goals and constraints. ‘Generative design, additive manufacturing and the development of new materials are already transforming the shape of manufacturing and innovative companies like Airbus are showing what is possible,’ said Jeff Kowalski, chief technology officer of Autodesk. ‘This is not just an interesting hypothetical experiment – this is a fully functioning component we can expect to see being deployed in aircraft in the very near future. We’re looking forward to further collaboration with Airbus on new components and designs for current and future aircraft.’

Peter Sander, the VP emerging technologies and concepts at Airbus, added that such collaborations are exactly what they need to push the boundaries of new manufacturing technologies. ‘Autodesk brings generative design technology and a real understanding of additive manufacturing, which is crucial to turning great concepts into real products. These technologies will ultimately revolutionize the way we design and build aircraft, enabling improvements in fuel efficiency, passenger comfort and a drastic reduction in the environmental footprint of air transport overall,’ he said.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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