In a significant development for aerospace manufacturing technology, Airbus Helicopters has inaugurated a state-of-the-art 3D printing center at its Donauwörth facility. This new addition escalates the company’s capabilities to produce aircraft components, now including those made of aluminium.
The advanced center houses three machines dedicated to titanium, four for plastics, and notably, a newly installed machine designed for aluminium component production. The incorporation of this machine underlines Airbus’s commitment to modernizing aerospace manufacturing.
Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, offers Airbus several advantages over traditional methods. It allows for both the serial production of parts and the creation of prototype components for cutting-edge projects such as the CityAirbus NextGen and the Racer high-speed helicopter.
“Our extensive capabilities in this process along the manufacturing chain are a real competitive advantage,” said Stefan Thomé, Managing Director of Airbus Helicopters in Germany. “Among other advantages, 3D printing can reduce the weight of aircraft components which leads to less fuel consumption. Such potential can bring financial benefits and contribute to reducing CO2 emissions during operations.”
The new process also boasts increased resource efficiency and flexibility, providing the ability to print new component configurations either individually or in small series, ideal for testing and prototyping.
Unlike traditional machining, which subtracts material from solid blocks, 3D printing adds material layer by layer using laser beams, greatly facilitating the creation of complex structures. This efficiency is evident in the resource consumption — traditional methods use nearly ten times the amount of raw material than the finished product, whereas additive manufacturing requires a mere 1.5 times.
Since 2017, Airbus Helicopters has utilized this innovative process to mass-produce over 9,400 locking shafts for Airbus A350 doors within their Donauwörth-based operation, consuming eleven tonnes of titanium powder.
The opening of this center marks a new chapter for Airbus in manufacturing efficiency and technological advancement.