New ZAL TechCenter Brings Together Over a Dozen Organizations to Research 3D Printing, Other Technology in Aeronautical Industry

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140401_HP_01_Fullscreen_Das-ZAL_EN (1)When it comes to technological innovation, Airbus might be one of the most advanced companies in the aeronautical industry. We’ve written about their increasing use of 3D printing frequently; they seem determined to incorporate the technology into their aircraft as much as possible. Headquartered in France, the company has a significant presence in Germany, and is one of several companies behind the new ZAL TechCenter, which officially opened in Hamburg last week. The 26,000-square-meter research facility will host up to 600 researchers in the near future, and their technological focus means that we’re likely going to be seeing a lot more cutting-edge tech from Airbus and several other aeronautical companies before long.

The TechCenter is the result of a partnership between several institutions including Airbus, Lufthansa Technik, the German Aerospace Center (DLR), and the City of Hamburg, plus four universities and twelve other organizations. Headquartered at the ZAL Center of Applied Technological Research, Hamburg’s civil aviation industry research and development network, the center will focus on aeronautical applications related to fuel cells, cabin technology, 3D printing, the Internet of Things, acoustics, virtual reality, and Industry 4.0.

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“The ZAL TechCenter provides the umbrella, under which the commercial and academic sectors will work together on the future of aviation,” said Roland Gerhard, CEO of the ZAL Center of Applied Technological Research. “Our modern research and test infrastructure provides the ideal environment, and the first application-oriented products will be entering into service in just a few years.”

20160307_ZAL_Ero_effnung_RAW-0068_15_56e1ce92eaf57Six focal points, or “Technical Domains,” will comprise the bulk of the research at ZAL. TD1, the Fuel Cell Lab, focuses on hydrogen and its applications in the aviation and other transportation sectors, while TD2, Cabin Innovation and Technology, is dedicated to improving and advancing technology within airplane cabins. A 20-meter-wide, 11-meter-high ZAL Cabin and Cargo Rig will serve as a “test cabin” for TD2’s reseach. TD3, Air and Power Systems, focuses on air conditioning and electricity within cabins, while TD4, Aerospace Production and Fuselage Engineering, will look at aircraft manufacturing as a whole. TD4, which will spend a significant amount of time researching 3D printing applications, may be the most significant focus area when it comes to seeing major changes in the way aircraft are developed.

The ZAL Acoustics Lab will host researchers working on FD5, Testing and Safety. One of the largest acoustic test centers in Europe, the lab can hold an entire fuselage section from an Airbus A320, which means that research on noise and vibration can take place on the ground rather than in the air. Finally, TD6, General Processes and Support Topics, will be carried out in the ZAL TechCenter and will focus on virtual reality with help from a giant, 6 x 3.5-meter VR-capable screen.

“The ZAL TechCenter’s modern infrastructure makes the technology center one of the most innovative research platforms worldwide,” said Dr. Klaus Richter, Chief Procurement Officer for the Airbus Group and Chairman of the Executive Board of Airbus in Germany. “Research and development are optimally tuned to one another, so that innovations can reach the market more quickly.”

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It’ll be interesting to see what comes out of a such an expansive collaboration. Until now, most of the technological innovations – 3D printing-related and otherwise – that we’ve seen in this industry have resulted from the work of individual companies. The purpose of the ZAL TechCenter seems to be less about personal profit than about advancing the industry as a whole, and with so many organizations working together, we could see some big things happening very quickly.

“The ZAL TechCenter is a boost to Hamburg’s international research and development profile, well beyond the boundaries of the aviation industry,” said Olaf Scholz, Hamburg’s Governing Mayor. “ZAL is more than an aeronautical research center. It is a pioneering example of a sustainable and successful concept for cooperation between the commercial and academic sectors.”

Discuss in the Aeronautics & 3D Printing Research forum over at 3DPB.com.

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