In April of this year, medical and industrial 3D printing manufacturer Materialise expanded its reach into the aerospace industry by obtaining EN9100 and EASA 21G certifications, which authorized them to manufacture airworthy, additive-manufactured end-use parts for aircraft.
Today, they announced that they have officially begun manufacturing 3D printed plastic parts for aircraft manufacturer Airbus. More specifically, Materialise is supplying components for Airbus’ A350 XWB planes, which are the company’s newest, most fuel-efficient jetliners.
A350 XWB jets were introduced in January of this year, and reduced fuel consumption by 25 percent compared to their competitors. With air travel having become more expensive, less convenient and less comfortable in recent years, the new jets sought to remedy all of these complaints. The fuel efficiency is enabling their long range flights to increase both in frequency and distance, and, to the relief of passengers, the planes also offer wider seats, wider cabins and more overall personal space.
To maximize the reliability of the new aircraft, as well as cut back on maintenance requirements, Airbus pulled out all the stops in terms of state-of-the-art manufacturing technology, including 3D printing. The A350 XWB consists, in fact, of over one thousand 3D printed parts. At the time, Stratasys was the main manufacturer of the jetliners’ 3D printed components, but now Materialise is jumping in.
“Airbus understands and appreciates the benefits that 3D printing – or more appropriately in this case, Additive Manufacturing (AM) – can bring to the most modern widebody aircraft: the A350 XWB. In addition, with one of the most thorough test programmes developed for a jetliner, the use of AM end-use parts sends a strong signal about the reliability and quality that AM can deliver today,” said Bart Van der Schueren, Materialise Executive Vice President of Production. “For 25 years, Materialise has been working to improve AM through an ever more sophisticated software offering, and a Factory for 3D Printing that manufactures parts that meet the needs of even the most demanding of industries, including the health care, automotive and aerospace sectors. As such, we are very proud to now be delivering end-use, flight-ready parts to Airbus.”
Airbus has been making the news a lot lately for their determination to push the envelope with new technology, and they appear to be fully behind 3D printing. The A350 XWB has been their playground, so to speak, in terms of experimentation with the latest technology. Earlier this month we wrote about Rolls-Royce’s uber-powerful jet engine, the most powerful, in fact, ever created by the company. The engine’s power was thanks to a set of 3D printed aerofoils, and it was used to fly a – you guessed it – A350 XWB. If ever there is a one hundred percent 3D printed aircraft, and it’s seeming increasingly likely that there will be in the future, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if it’s an Airbus.
Discuss this story in the 3D Printing an Airbus forum thread on 3DPB.com.