3D printing

Sep 14, 2017

Airbus sends a note to those who think 3D printing is a gimmick

Certainty in component quality and a potential drop in costs drive more complex uses of 3D printing in jet making

Ben Sandilands — Editor of Plane Talking

Ben Sandilands

Editor of Plane Talking

No longer a ‘toy’, 3D printing makes this perfect replica of an A350 pylon component

The automation of component making in airliner manufacturing may have been in full swing for decades, but 3D printing is the technology that is rapidly shifting from demonstration mode to conventional production applications.

Airbus has just posted these two images of a complex wing-engine pylon component using the 100 percent accuracy of the technique.

In a statement Airbus says:

Airbus completed for the first time the installation of a titanium 3D-printed bracket on an in-series production A350 XWB. The bracket, built using additive-layer manufacturing (ALM) technologies (also known as 3D-printing), is part of the aircraft pylon, the junction section between wings and engines.

This is the first step towards qualification of more complex 3D-printed parts to be installed on production aircraft.

Additive-laying manufacturing ‘grows’ products from  fine base material powder-such as aluminium, titanium, stainless steel and plastics-by adding thin layers of material in incremental stages, which enables complex components to be produced directly from computer-aided design.

3D-printed parts are already flying on some of Airbus A320neo and A350 XWB test aircraft. These include metal printed cabin brackets and bleed pipes.

Straight off the assembly line 3D printer
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5 thoughts on “Airbus sends a note to those who think 3D printing is a gimmick

  1. Douglas Irvin

    Does the part have the strength to withstand long term stress fatigue? The layers in manufacturing may have weak points.?

    1. Dan Dair

      Douglas Irvin,
      I’m not an expert in these matters & will happily defer to any contributor who is;
      but AFAIK, the components are built-up layer-by-layer (& effectively crumb-by-crumb) of whatever material is being used, be it a simple plastic, a complex polymer or a metal.
      The ‘crumbed’ base material is fused together using a computer controlled laser.
      With some materials this is sufficient for the task to be completed but some of the materials require a heat-curing process to be finished.
      I wouldn’t be a bit surprised if these titanium components were ‘fired’ in an extremely hot oven, to give them a final cure.?

      Regarding the safety issue,I would be completely amazed if Airbus hadn’t x-rayed the finished articles, prior to subjecting them to extensive individual & in-situ stress-testing,
      long before the first one of these components ever made it onto an actual production aircraft.

      I’ve no doubt that Airbus are looking at any number of ways of cutting the costs of complicated to produce components, which can still be made ‘right-first-time’, everytime.?
      But I’m confident they are fully aware that there’s no point in using substandard components, just because they’re cheaper.?

  2. Zarathrusta

    They have also been using them for A300 spare parts for some time. It saves them keeping a whole production line tooled up for a model no longer made. Saves heaps.

    1. TomM

      @Zarathrusta the parts for the A300 are likely plastic. This is the first time that Airbus is using metal 3d printed parts.

  3. TomM

    @Dan Dair the parts in the picture were manufactured by Arconic (ex. Alcoa spin-off) using powder bed technology. These parts are some of the first additive manufactured metal parts to be flying in commercial aerospace. GE already have a few parts flying in their engines e.g. fuel nozzles on the LEAP. For metallic parts, there are two key additive technologies. Powder bed (akin to what you describe, lay down layers of powder and use laser or electron beam to fuse the powder together), and the other is “High Deposition Rate” or HDR. HDR is essentially like welding by using wire or other feed stock and melting the wire onto a base plate to build up the plate. Powder bed is a much slower production process but produces a finer resolution surface. HDR is better suited to larger parts due to its high production rate.

    @Douglas Irvin All aerospace parts undergo a rigorous testing, certification, and qualification regime to ensure they are fit for purpose and behave as expected. Additive parts typically have strength equal to or better than traditionally cast parts, but are not as strong as forged or other wrought materials.
    All of the OEMs (Boeing, Airbus, GE, P&W, RR etc.) have serious programs in place to make the most of additive manufacturing and the key benefits it brings, namely reducing material usage, shortening supply chains, and enabling the production of parts that are highly optimized for their function. A great example of this is GE and their Advanced Turboprop which will be launched on the Cessna Denali in the near term.

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