3D printing is becoming widespread in the aerospace industry, but one of the biggest enthusiasts of the technology has always been Airbus. From satellites to robots, Airbus is using 3D printing in nearly every aspect of its business, especially its airplanes. The Airbus A350 XW3 aircraft has more than 1,000 3D printed parts in it, and recently the company created the first aircraft cabin component to be visible to passengers. Now Airbus is reaching out to help other organizations with 3D printing in aerospace.
Airbus recently announced an agreement with Singapore’s Defence Science and Technology Agency (DSTA) to develop 3D printed spare parts that will initially be trialed on Singapore’s new fleet of A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport (A330-MRTT) aircraft. This will be the first initiative under a new digital technology collaboration between the two organizations. An implementation agreement was signed at the Farnborough Air Show stating that Airbus Defence and Space will support DSTA in designing and certifying 3D printed parts for the Republic of Singapore Air Force (RSAF) aircraft.
“It is absolutely clear that digitalisation represents the future of military aircraft services and we are now at a point where we can begin to explore the most promising techniques on operational fleets,” said Stephan Miegel, Head of Military Aircraft Services at Airbus Defence and Space. “We greatly appreciate the innovative approach of DSTA in going on this journey with us. Following this first agreement on 3D-printing, we have further agreed to collaborate on data analytics for predictive maintenance. The collaboration will add on to the development of Airbus’s new SmartForce suite of maintenance data analytics launched at Farnborough.”
SmartForce is a new suite of services that enables operators to use aircraft data to improve troubleshooting, optimize maintenance effort, predict maintenance actions and plan for material demand. It will allow for significantly more efficient maintenance, freeing up resources to focus on mission execution.
Using 3D printing to create spare parts for aircraft is becoming more appealing to all aircraft manufacturers. When an aircraft needs a part replaced, rather than waiting weeks or even months for the outsourced part to become available, the manufacturer can simply 3D print it themselves, having it ready for installation within hours or days. In addition, 3D printing is capable of creating more lightweight parts than traditional manufacturing – and lightweight parts mean faster travel and more efficient fuel usage, lowering both cost and environmental impact.
Airbus is now sharing this expertise with others, including the DSTA. Singapore on the whole has been extensively pursuing 3D printing, particularly for the maritime industry. While 3D printing has been used extensively in refits, upgrades and on some military aircraft this alliance is a step forward for Singapore. Can the small but wealthy techno-state use 3D printing to customize and develop weapons? Perhaps technological edge will give tiny Singapore an outsized presence in the future of 3D printed weapons.
The RSAF has acquired the A330 MRTT and the first aircraft will be delivered to Singapore in the coming months.[Source: Airbus]