AMS Spring 2023

Airbus Taps Liebherr for Complex 3D Printed Part for A350 Fleet

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Progress in additive manufacturing (AM) for aerospace continues apace, as an increasing number of 3D printed parts are incorporated into increasingly functional roles in aircraft. The latest is a complex component for the Airbus A350 passenger aircraft, which will be 3D printed by its partner Liebherr-Aerospace Lindenberg GmbH.

A German division of the Swiss Leibherr Group, Liebherr Aerospace will be supplying Airbus with a metal 3D printed actuator and valve for the lower cargo door of the A350. The part is an advancement on the company’s previous AM work with the aviation giant.

AM collaboration between the two began as far back as 2017, when Leibherr 3D printed a spoiler actuator valve block for the A380. It 2019, the partnership evolved to serial production of 3D printed proximity sensor brackets for the nose landing gear of the Airbus A350 XWB. Those components were clearly important for the functioning of these systems, but Liebherr is saying that the latest is even more complex.

Metal 3D printing at Liebherr-Aerospace. Image courtesy of Liebherr-Aerospace.

Interestingly, Liebherr is also supporting what is said to be a competitor to Airbus, China’s state-owned COMAC, for whom it is building the landing gear subsystem. 3D printing has yet to be incorporated into the partnership publicly, but it’s worth noting that Liebherr has access and is developing landing gear parts for both companies.

When Airbus envisioned a fully 3D printed aircraft about a decade ago, it was hard to imagine the idea coming to fruition. However, that concept is being realized more and more every day. Just this June, Lufthansa announced that it had certified a load-bearing metal 3D printed part for Airbus’s A320 airplane.

The A350 aircraft from Airbus. Image courtesy of Liebherr.

Executive editor Joris Peels has expressed his concern with the implementation of these types of components on flying aircraft. He suggested that, because every printed part is built up layer by layer, variation exists across builds and the parts themselves. This is an issue well-known in the AM industry, yet we’re seeing a greater number of 3D printed components in end use applications, including passenger cars and aircraft.

While we can caution their use, we may also begin to wonder if these companies have proprietary methods for validating every item 3D printed. Perhaps, due to their size, corporations like Airbus and GM can CT scan and qualify every 3D printed part for use. Or perhaps they’re willing to take the risk of installing critical elements onto passenger vehicles.

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