German aviation technology company Premium Aerotec has been making 3D printed aerospace parts for a few years now. Since 2016 they’ve been producing 3D printed parts for the A400M. The company recently bought Airbus’ own APWorks metal printing facility which helped develop the Scalmalloy material and is also involved in a large 3D printing automation project with EOS and Daimler. Airbus came late to the 3D printing party when compared to Boeing which already makes tens of thousands of 3D printed components for commercial aircraft. Airbus is catching up though, through the A350 program. A few years ago it said that it would have over a 1000 3D printed components on each aircraft. It also has announced that Materialise would supply polymer parts for the plane and showed us these spacer panels that would be in the cabin. Subsidiary Airbus Helicopters has for a few months now been serially producing metal door latch shafts for the A350.
Now Premium Aerotec, itself also an Airbus subsidiary, will start serially producing metal 3D printed components for the A350 as well. Premium Aerotec is a Tier 1 that employs over six thousand, has revenues over $2 billion and is the company tasked with making many of the A350’s metal components as well as some composite parts. Some of these composite parts will become the CFRP (Carbon Fiber Reinforced Polymer) door frames for the A350. Another CFRP product now comes with metal 3D printed titanium structural components. These have now entered into serial production and have been delivered to Airbus.
The parts will be on the Potable Water Service Panel. This is a side panel of the aircraft, exposed to the elements, which is opened once the aircraft has landed to refill the plane’s water supply. If you’re curious about Portable Water Service Panels, the A320 video below shows you how it works. Two 3D printed parts support the panel and one acts as the panel’s latch.
Clearly, Airbus is taking no chances with our technology for now. It is, however, difficult to overstate just how important this development is. Commercial aviation is one of the strictest regulatory environments to end up in. It is also one of the most technically demanding fields to work in. Commercial aviation parts are tasked with safely transporting millions of people around the world. These parts are notoriously difficult to qualify, have to conform to the strictest standards and work for decades under very demanding conditions. Flying is insanely safe if you consider that it consists of holding aloft a few hundred people at ten kilometers in altitude going at 700 Kilometers an hour for a few hours a day, almost every day, for decades. The engineering and manufacturing of the components that keep these planes flying safely is, together with crew and maintenance people, responsible for keeping these planes so safe. The fact that these parts are now qualified and will be flying on Airbus’ newest platform is, therefore, a huge leap for us as an industry.
It’s easy to be some biz dev happy chappy who high fives everyone and is enthusiastic of the “future of 3D printing.” Here a very large firm is trusting its very large subsidiary with making structural aircraft components that will function on board a commercial plane. This is the kind of heavy lifting that is going on behind the scenes at companies such as Airbus, BMW, Daimler, Volkswagen, SMS Group, Oerlikon and others that will validate our technology. Our proof point will not come from a guy in a suit with a PowerPoint slide, the true validation will happen on concrete floors by people wearing overalls. By taking an interesting idea and turning it into a heavily tested serially produced airliner component AEROTEC has taken a big jump that will benefit all of us.
Furthermore, AEROTEC says that the company has been able to lower costs with these three 3D printed parts. The company stated that it used much less raw material to make the part. This leads to better buy to fly ratios which means that the business case part of this would also seem solid. Welcome to the future people, it’s finally happening.
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