They’re often referred to as “puddle-jumpers” – the small commuter aircraft that transport people to relatively nearby destinations a few hundred miles away, as opposed to the big jet airliners that travel across the country or to international locations. I’ve never particularly liked them, as they tend to be cramped, and every bit of turbulence or engine vibration can be felt more sharply through the small frame. But they’re short flights that get you where you need to go, and they tend to be less expensive – and in the near future, they’re likely to get even more efficient.
Eviation is a manufacturer of electric aircraft, and they’re currently working on developing the first-ever all-electric commuter passenger plane. Known as Alice, the plane can carry as many as nine people up to 600 miles.
“In the next four years, Eviation aims to make regional air travel a cost-effective and clean option that rivals any existing form of transit today,” says Eviation founder and CEO Omer Bar-Yohay. “With people working and commuting across greater distances than ever before, we believe the solution will bring mid-range cities like Seoul and Beijing, or London and Paris, closer together through all-electric air travel.”
Eviation isn’t the only company working on developing electric passenger planes, so they turned to 3D printing to give them an advantage over the competition. In particular, they used Stratasys 3D printing solutions throughout the development process, which was redesigned for maximum efficiency. By using 3D printing, Eviation was able to test out new designs in as many iterations as necessary before moving on to final, certifiable parts.
“Our ability to create new iterations of designs with 3D printing and see how they perform in real-time is helping us reduce critical capital costs, even as we accelerate our rapid prototyping phase,” said Bar-Yohay. “The kind of highly iterative, in-house manufacturing process that Stratasys 3D printing has refined is crucial to the life of a company in the constantly changing, and highly competitive, transportation space.
All in all, in two years of operation we have saved several hundreds of thousands of dollars with Stratasys 3D printing and I would estimate six months or more of workforce hours, which made this project possible. Today we are using the technology for prototyping test parts and tooling; the ability to produce lightweight parts in complex geometries will also enable us to explore the possibility of 3D printing parts for the final aircraft.”
It took only hours for Eviation to 3D print their wing-tip motors, allowing for functional evaluation as they waited for the final motors to be shipped. Another part of the design involved the use of smooth, curved surfaces on the outside of the aircraft to reduce interference drag. Eviation was able to create the strong yet lightweight, complex parts to support those curved surfaces by 3D printing a composite lay-up tool in ULTEM 1010 and then covering it in carbon fiber.
“Eviation is a great example of how 3D printing promotes in-house innovation and can accelerate what is typically a long and expensive development phase for both start-ups and mature companies. This enables them to develop new concepts and produce working prototypes quickly, without racking up significant costs up front,” said Zehavit Reisin, Vice President, Head of Rapid Prototyping Solutions Business Unit, Stratasys. “Our extensive experience in aerospace – ranging from prototypes and tools to the use of our technology for flight-certified aircraft interior and launch vehicle components – makes Stratasys solutions an optimal fit for aviation companies looking to improve cycle time and development efficiency, while pushing the envelope of innovation.”
Stratasys has been active in the aerospace industry lately, with the introduction of the new Fortus 900mc Aircraft Interiors Certification Solution as well as a partnership with Boom Supersonic both happening in the last month. Stratasys 3D printing technology was also used to create the first certified 3D printed part in the Middle East. As airplanes get faster, stronger, and more eco-friendly and cost-effective through the use of technology like 3D printing, we can expect to see the Stratasys name on a lot of those brand new components.
The Alice electric commuter plane is expected to begin flight testing in late 2018, with commercial availability in 2021. Currently, Eviation’s Stratasys 3D printed parts are on display in the Future Lab at the Goodwood Festival of Speed, which is taking place from June 29th to July 2nd. Discuss in the Eviation forum at 3DPB.com.