Jan 18, 2016 | By Benedict

Airbus Helicopters is reducing development costs of prototype components with the help of an X400 3D printer from Feldkirchen, Munich based company German RepRap. Windshield wipers, gears, levers and shafts were all made using the large-format FFF machine.

German RepRap has been busy with its range of industrial 3D printers lately, having released its 3rd generation X400 PRO in December. The range of X400 3D printers, which feature large build volumes and layer thicknesses of around 0.1mm, are used by a number of companies across different fields, including the aerospace industry.

Airbus Helicopters, the helicopter manufacturing arm of aerospace giant Airbus, is one of German RepRap’s key aerospace customers, and recently employed an X400 3D printer to produce several prototype parts. Airbus is no stranger to 3D printing technology, having recently unveiled a revolutionary 3D printed airplane partition developed in collaboration with Autodesk. That part, made from a special alloy called “Scalmalloy”, could be the largest 3D printed metal airplane component ever.

Moving away from planes, Airbus Helicopters has developed a new system for producing various 3D printed components, including prototype windshield wipers, for the large number of safety tests helicopters must go through. “These windshield wipers require a multitude of tests with regard to their functionality and serviceability, as well as their ease of installation and the future manufacturing process,” explained Frank Singer, manager of engineering at Airbus Helicopters Deutschland GmbH.

The 3D printer was put to task for a variety of other components, including gears, levers and shafts. The X400 was able to produce prototypes of these components at a much faster rate than would have been possible without the use of a 3D printer. Threads, bearings and sleeves were later incorporated into the 3D models. By producing parts with a 3D printer, Airbus Helicopters is able to create functional prototypes which can be used to test component interaction. Testing helicopter parts is a long and thorough procedure, since the slightest mechanical problem could result in terrible consequences.

Singer praised the X400 3D printer for its low operational costs, especially compared to conventional manufacturing methods like CNC milling. The Airbus manager also noted the usefulness of being able to provide a fully constructed functional model to customers, rather than a simple CAD drawing.

The X400 is German RepRap’s second-largest 3D printer, after the X1000. With the best price-size ratio of the company’s stock, the X400 is made to print large-scale objects in a professional setting.  A 390 x 400 x 320mm build volume proved sufficient for the needs of Airbus Helicopters.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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