May 26, 2016 | By Andre

Aerospace is one of those industries that has always had close ties with the high-end 3D printing sector from both a prototyping and production-ready parts perspective. It seems every passing month, more patents (like what Boeing did in 2015) are being filed in a very 3D print specific fashion.

It now seems that Airbus, one of the largest manufacturers of commercial airplanes, is in the early stages of taking 3D printing airplane parts to the next level with a recently filed patent that outlines the concept of using 3D printing to construct entire aircraft exteriors.

Just like most additive manufacturing methods on the industrial scale, what Airbus proposes has very little to do with the 3D printers most common in our day-to-day lives. From what I understand, a material is added to a previously constructed shell-like component before being heated up by a high powered laser beam. Once cooled and formed into the desired shape, the process is repeated over and over again, just like the layering of any 3D print.

A variety of metal powders (titanium and aluminium as well as synthetics for example) are said to be available for the process and selective laser sintering (SLS) is ultimately the 3D printing method being utilized.

Airbus is focused on the additive manufacturing approach because it allows more parts to be constructed on-site while only needing the raw material to be delivered to their production facilities. Additionally, as stated in the patent, traditionally used subtractive manufacturing may also be limited in that “material is removed from the component. In other words, the material can only be removed as long as sufficient material is left such that the component can still fulfill stability requirements.”

While I won’t pretend to have a firm grasp on everything outlined in the patent or provided diagrams, additional reasons for their process have to do with withstanding the strong, in-flight exterior forces a plane must endure while on the move. Wings and doors and the exterior shell bends and warps and this 3D printing method helps manage that. They mention that “by a bending or a deflection which is opposite to the loading direction of the wings during flight, improved flight characteristics can be achieved, for example a reduced aircraft drag.”

If 3D printing can improve efficiency, control and ultimately safety in the aerospace industry as it appears to be capable of, I imagine more and more of these announcements will be made in the coming years. Boeing, SpaceX, and now Airbus are focusing a lot of their future-ready manufacturing methods towards 3D printing technology. If these industry heavyweights are convinced, that bodes well for the continued growth of 3D printing technology for years to come.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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