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What Airbus Really Thinks About Additive Manufacturing

Posted on November 1st, 2017 by in New Materials & Applications

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Image by APWorks via Light Rider Website

If a €67 billion aerospace industry giant shared their strategy on one of the latest technology advancements in engineering and manufacturing, would you listen?

Airbus did just that at the recent IN(3D)USTRY From Needs to Solutions 2017 conference in Barcelona, leading a main stage aeronautics panel presentation and roundtable discussion. For those unable to attend, Engineering.com fortunately interviewed the presentation’s author, Jonathan Meyer, Airbus Group Innovations’ HO additive manufacturing and Additive Layer Manufacturing roadmap leader.

One key to understanding the application of any new technology and its priority within a company’s overall strategy is the value ascribed by that organization. Mr. Meyers touched on several areas where Airbus sees the value proposition of additive manufacturing. Helping to drive down product cost, AM can better produce “near net shape” products using less raw material, requiring less subtractive machining operations, and reducing the need for non-machined subassemblies.

Meyer also noted that the digital manufacturing process of AM can help improve development time and costs. Digital engineering and validation increased supply chain agility, reduces design iteration cycle times (or enables more cycles within the same timeframe), potentially reduces tooling costs, and offers increased design freedom.

Part performance is another factor Airbus believes is positively impacted by AM. Meyer describes innovative AM techniques such as rapid solidification processing and spatially or functionally graded material composition as a method to achieve a range of material properties within a single material. For example, changing the deposition parameters can potentially produce both stiff areas in a part where strength is required and flexible areas where vibration is a concern. According to Meyer, “It doesn’t have to be a dramatic change – we’re not talking about big chemistry changes, because that can lead you into a whole world of problems – but even quite subtle changes to the microstructure can have quite big optimization potential in terms of the performance of a product.”

Aerospace is not the only industry where Airbus sees application for AM. Have a look at their lessons learned from their Light Rider project, they claim as the world’s first 3D printed prototype for an electric motorcycle:

It’s easy to get caught up in the technical aspects of any new technology – particularly for an engineer. AM still has a long way to go before reaching maturation particularly in a heavily regulated industry such as aerospace. Knowing how companies such as Airbus see value in 3D printing beyond just producing current parts better, proves there is more than just a passing interest.

From what perspective do you believe the value proposition of AM is more compelling; manufacturing or engineering? Tell us about your quest for unconventional knowledge and what it could mean for the future of your products or companies. Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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