Additive manufacturing may not have gained mainstream consumer attention, but it is becoming a critical component within many industries.
The aerospace industry is up there as one of the top beneficiaries from the progression of 3D printing technology.
There are already planes and helicopters that feature 3D printed parts flying around the world.
Helicopters and Additive Manufacturing
Airbus Helicopters, the helicopter manufacturing arm of Airbus, is the most famous and successful helicopter manufacturer in the world. The company was founded 26 years ago and boasts revenue of up to €6 billion a year.
The company is now taking steps to serially produce parts for its AS350 helicopter through additive manufacturing. Airbus Helicopters is in the process of setting up a 3D printing assembly line at its Donauwörth, Germany facility.
It is still a process that is in the early stages, with Airbus declaring that serial production will begin in the early part of 2019. Moreover, the first AS350s that fly with those components will not be seen until 2020. However, it is still a significant step for additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry.
3D Printed AS350 Parts
The components being built for the AS350 will be titanium door latch shafts. These are used on long-haul AS350 helicopters around the world. Airbus is pushing forward with the plans because of the enormous benefit of the additive manufactured parts.
The company claims that when those latches are 3D printed, they are 45 percent lighter and 25 percent cheaper to produce. It is understandable that Airbus Helicopters would invest time and money in beginning this production cycle, as it would deliver the necessary upgrades and financial savings in the long run.
Latch Shafts on the Airbus AS350
The Airbus AS350 helicopter has 16 latch shafts, which means the total weight being saved is up to 9 pounds (4kg). It is a significant sum of weight that is lost, while the 3D printed components will not be any less durable or strong as the conventionally manufactured latches.
Experts believe that if Airbus Helicopters is successful with this venture, it will open the door for the company to invest more money in additive manufacturing for various parts that go on its helicopters.
Printing Latch Shafts
The process of printing latch shafts for the AS350 will involve a Direct Metal Printing system similar to the DMP Flex 350 system from 3D Systems. Titanium powder is used within laser sintering technology, which ensures the parts are made with less material compared to the conventionally manufactured parts.
The system is capable of producing up to 28 latch shafts in a single print. And given there are 16 of those components going onto a single helicopter, being able to produce these parts with such speed will be of great benefit to the company. It will streamline operations for the production of new helicopters and repairing older ones.
Airbus Helicopters hope that around 2,200 components will be produced every year at the facility in Germany.
Airbus has previous history with additive manufacturing. The company used additive manufactured titanium brackets on the same AS350 aircraft last year. They also entered into a partnership with Materialise in Belgium, which resulted in the creation of 3D printed spacer panels that go on the A320 aircraft for Finnair.
It is incredible how much progress has already been made when it comes to 3D printing components in the aerospace industry. With major companies such as Boeing and Airbus leading the way, others are set to follow. There is even talk about 3D printing components for space vehicles in the near future. It shows the 3D printing industry is in very rude health going into the next decade.