Although only 4 metres (13 feet) long, Thor, Airbus’ first 3D printed drone, was recently on display at the International Aerospace Exhibition in Berlin. THOR stands for ‘Test of High-tech Objectives in Reality’ and resembles a large, white model airplane.
Airbus sees the small pilotless propeller aircraft as “a test of what’s possible with 3D printing technology,” said Detlev Konigorski, who was in charge of developing Thor, speaking at the air show. “We want to see if we can speed up the development process by using 3D printing not just for individual parts but for an entire system.”
In Thor, the only parts that are not printed from a substance called polyamide are the electrical elements.
Airbus and its US rival Boeing are already using 3D printing, notably to make parts for their huge passenger jets the A350 and B787 Dreamliner.
“Metal parts produced can also be 30-50 percent lighter than in the past, and there is almost zero manufacturing waste”.
Engineers also plan to use the technology in space. The future Ariane 6 rocket of European Space Agency ESA, planned for a 2020 blast-off, is set to feature many printed pieces. Airbus cites big cost reductions on parts’ manufacturing as a key factor.
Partially as a result of this, the Ariane 6 may be half the price of its predecessor Ariane 5.
The new 3D printers can make pieces up to 40 centimetres (15 inches) long and are of most use in particularly complex designs. For example, Airbus is testing how to print an injection assembly for an engine that is currently assembled from 270 individual pieces.
Aside from the costs savings, 3D printing also promises ecological benefits, as lighter jets use less fuel and emit fewer pollutants.
To reducing carbon emissions in aviation—with air traffic expected to double in the next 20 years—”the decisive issue is radical technical innovation in a relatively short time,” said Ralf Fuecks, head of the Heinrich Boell foundation think tank of the German Green Party. 3D printing is certain to play a major role in this, he said at a conference at the ILA event with Airbus president Tom Enders.
The air travel industry is already convinced of the benefits, according to a survey of some 102 aviation sector players by German high-tech federation Bitkom.
Some 70 percent of respondents believed that by 2030, aircraft spare parts will be printed directly at airports, and 51 percent expect that entire planes will by then be manufactured by 3D printing.
Original Article Source: http://m.phys.org/news/2016-06-airbus-3d-printed-mini-aircraft.html