3D printing lands on airplanes. For the first time, a manufacturer has prepared and assembled on a civil model that will be used for scheduled flights, a component “molded” with the innovative system. Airbus completed the installation of a 3D printed titanium holder in a mass-produced Airbus A350 XWB two days ago. The support, created through “additive-layer manufacturing – ALM” technologies (also known as 3D printing), is part of the aircraft pylon, the section that joins the wing to the engine. A fundamental and if possible critical section for the parties involved.
“This is the first step towards the qualification of more complex parts, made through 3D printing, and intended for series installation on aircraft” explains the Franco-German group that already uses these techniques in other experimental fields. ‘Additive-layer manufacturing’ is a production process that “makes products grow” from a very fine powder base of materials such as aluminum, titanium, stainless steel and plastic. Subtle layers of matter are added in incremental steps, enabling the production of complex components directly through information arriving via computer-aided design (CAD). More or less, even if in different scales, what is already possible today at home with the latest 3D printers available to the public that have the limit of reproducing small parts. Here, however, we are talking about square meters produced starting from titanium. It’s about parts that are lighter, practical to produce and easier to make during the most critical phase, the one that concerns the field test during the construction of an airplane. Changes in the model used – this is one of the advantages – can be changed during the race, also speeding up the set-up of the systems. The future of aviation therefore goes in this direction. And the next steps are already marked: some new 3D printed components are already “in flight” on some Airbus A320neo and A350XWB aircraft used for testing. These include metal supports used in the cabin and breather pipes. Waiting to fly on aircraft all in 3D.