More and more, we are hearing about how 3D printing technology is being used to manufacture parts and components for aircraft. Liebherr-Aerospace & Transportation SAS 3D printed a spoiler actuator valve block, which was then successfully used on a March 30th flight test for a double-deck Airbus A380. Liebherr-Aerospace is one of the eleven divisional control companies of the Liebherr Group, one of the world’s largest construction machinery manufacturers. This division, based out of Toulouse, France, develops, manufactures, and services landing gear, aircraft flight control and actuation systems, on-board electronics, gears and gearboxes, and air management systems for the aerospace industry. Its 3D printed primary flight control hydraulic component is the first ever to be flown on an Airbus aircraft.The A380 was a pretty good test subject for the 3D printed component, as it is the largest commercial aircraft flying the friendly skies right now, with a maximum payload of over 63 tons and a length of 72.72 meters. Research tells us that 3D printed components are capable of notably reducing total aircraft weight, and the A380 also features 3D printed brackets. Airbus itself has been a big proponent of using 3D printing technology to enhance aircraft, and in addition to developing 3D printed nozzles and drilling templates for aircraft and using an EBAM 110 system from Sciaky to 3D print large titanium parts, it even 3D printed an entire UAV.
The German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy offered partial funding to this project, and Liebherr-Aerospace worked closely with both Airbus and the Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany to develop the 3D printed hydraulic component. Titanium powder was used to manufacture the valve block, which is actually a part of Liebherr-Aerospace’s spoiler actuator; the actuator provides the A380’s primary flight control functions. While the 3D printed valve block provides the same performance as a conventional valve block built from a titanium forging, it has fewer parts, and thus reduces the weigh by 35%.
In regards to component design, more complex shapes are able to be produced using additive manufacturing, which means fewer parts, of the same quality, that typically weigh less and can be manufactured more quickly than conventional components. Liebherr-Aerospace estimates that the “weight savings at system level could significantly contribute to a reduction of fuel consumption as well as CO2 and NOx emissions of future aircraft.”
“We still have quite a way to go until we can introduce 3D printing technology on a broad scale in the aerospace industry. All parts of the process chain – from the powder material, over the laser parameters, the post processing, up to the final product – need to be optimized in order to improve stability, maturity, and economic efficiency,” said Heiko Lütjens, Liebherr-Aerospace & Transportation SAS Managing Director, and CTO Flight Control and Actuation Systems, Landing Gear Systems and Hydraulics. “Nevertheless, the potential and vision of 3D printing will change the way future aircraft generations will be developed.”
Liebherr-Aerospace, which has over five decades of experience in supplying systems to the civil and military aviation industry, has already begun work on the next generation of 3D printed electro-mechanic and hydraulic components, including a highly integrated rudder actuator. Thanks to additive manufacturing, this component will not require the typical extra reservoir, separate valve block, or separate cylinder housing: instead, all of the parts are built right into one large, compact housing.
The first flight testing of Liebherr-Aerospace’s 3D printed spoiler actuator valve block on the Airbus A380 is solid proof of the benefits of continued investment and research by both companies. The successful test flight shows that both are laying the groundwork for the development and manufacturing of next-generation aircraft. Discuss in the Airbus forum at 3DPB.com.[Images: Liebherr-Aerospace & Transportation SAS]