Jan 18, 2016 | By Alec

Though several industrial giants are beginning to make a name for themselves in the 3D printing community, it’s clear that airplane manufacturer Airbus definitely cannot be ignored anymore. Though several of their latest engine and plane designs already rely on top of the range 3D printed parts – such as A350 XWB which features over a 1000 3D printed components – Airbus also clearly has its eye on the industry as a whole. Recently setting up a separate corporate venture capital fund worth $150 million intended for innovative technology investments, Airbus has singled out 3D printed car pioneers Local Motors as the first beneficiary of their millions.

Investment experts were doubtlessly looking at several possibilities when Airbus announced they were setting up Airbus Ventures, a $150 million corporate venture capital fund in the spring of 2015. Headed by Tim Dombrowski – known for previously being a partner at Andreessen Horowitz and a director of global business development at Hewlett-Packard —this venture was looking at several promising businesses, but the 3D printing pioneers of Local Motors were apparently the most appealing. As regular readers probably know, Local Motors was founded in 2007 in Phoenix, Arizona, and have been causing quite a lot of commotion over the past few years. Back in September 2014, the took the world’s first 3D printed car for a test drive, and their road-worthy LM3D Swim 3D printed car is expected to be released some time in 2016. While key components like the engine are conventional models, about 75% percent of the latter car is 3D printed in plastic or carbon fiber.

In short, there is much to expect from Local Motors over the coming years, and Airbus is determined to be a part of it. Industry experts have already suggested that they are especially interested in learning more about 3D printing production, as metal 3D printing has already been making inroads into the aviation industry. According to CEO Tim Dombrowski, it’s all about innovation opportunities. “Not since the space race has there been a bigger opportunity for aerospace innovation,” he said. Though Local Motors might not seem to be a perfect match for a company like Airbus, he defended their decision by pointing at their development model, which focuses on crowdsourcing engineering designs and making them suitable for distributed factory manufacturing. “We see great promise in companies like Local Motors who improve the speed with which new products can be brought to market,” he added.

In a recent interview with Tech Crunch, Dombrowski emphasized that their interest is definitely on more than 3D printing, but on the entire scope of innovative aircraft technologies anno 2016. “We’re interested in any company that wants to penetrate that marketplace, so anything having to do with aircraft — meaning commercial, military, helicopters, launch vehicles, rockets, satellite constellations — as well as hardware, software and systems, cybersecurity and safety, the Internet of things, connected factories, data analytics associated with sensor systems, the networking and telecommunications associated with connecting those things together,” he argued.

The LM3D Swim 3D printed car by Local Motors.

3D printing is thus just one of those key technologies. “As we’ve looked into that, Local Motors just kept popping up. 3D printing isn’t the core of what they do, but it’s a big part of their manufacturing process and lets them build products rapidly. So we think the company is a great financial investment, but we also like that what they are doing could be accretive for our LP. [Local Motors] has already begun talking with Airbus about advancing its product development and how to speed product introductions,” he explained. “Literally, they could be producing aircraft.”

Unfortunately, it’s unclear what amount of the $150 million fund will be invested into Local Motors. Several similar investments, all focusing on aerospace, data analytics, production and other technologies, are expected in the near future – all with an eye on benefitting the European aerospace giant itself. Businesses focusing on (in-flight) entertainment devices and communication are thus also on the venture radar.

Nonetheless, this announcement thus suggest that 3D printing is heading towards a prominent role in the aircraft manufacturing industry. Many experts have predicted a significant expansion and overhaul of that industry, with Airbus and Boeing being at the forefront of those trends. And with metal 3D printing proving itself as a cost-effective technology, this interest in Local Motors is everything but a coincidence.



Posted in 3D Printer Company



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