3D printing is going to get a whole lot bigger if Bastian Schafer has anything to say about it.
Schafer is a cabin designer with Airbus, a company that produces more than half of the world’s jet airliners. He has been working for two years on a concept-plane would be built entirely with a 3D printer. Today the biggest 3D printers would fit on your average dining table. How big would the one need to be to print his plane? Oh, about the size of an aircraft hangar. That’s around 80 by 80 meters.
That may sound completely out of reach by today’s standards, but the key according to Schafer is to take baby steps. The newest models of Eurofighter Typhoon, an Airbus military jet, already contain a few pieces of 3D-printed material – strictly non-structural parts of its air-conditioning unit. By the end of 2012, the company hopes to print certain cabin brackets replacements for their super jumbo A380, making it their first commercial plane to use 3D-printed components.
“Now we’d like to create even bigger parts in the mid-term up to 2013,” said Schaefer as reported by Forbes. “Printed components of a seat or other structural components inside the cabin, and we have 20 years to scale this up.”
Airbus’s parent company EADS has been researching 3D printing for a while. In March of 2011, they printed an “Airbike,” calling it the “future of manufacturing.” As far as plane manufacturing goes, 3D printing is a good option because of its potential to be cheaper and produce components that are 65 percent lighter than those made through traditional manufacturing.
Schafer’s concept plane can’t even happen without a 3D printer because some of the materials needed to make the plane don’t exist yet, such as aluminum for the fuselage that needs to be strong yet transparent. By using a 3D printer that can print with multiple materials at the same time, they can experiment with different properties in the same component.
Making flying an enjoyable experience again? That may be one of 3D printing’s most daunting challenges yet…
Check out this video all about the concept plane that would be produced entirely using a 3D printer: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DcKb3ldQznU&feature=player_embedded#!