Airbus has flown a 3D-printed spoiler actuator valve block on its flight-test A380, the valve block becoming the first 3D-printed primary flight control hydraulic component ever flown on an Airbus aircraft.
Announcing the Airbus technological first, Liebherr-Aerospace, which made the 3D-printed titanium valve block to fit the spoiler actuator it supplies for the A380, says the 3D-printed component features the same manufacturing quality and performance as the conventionally manufactured valve block it makes from a titanium forging.
However, the 3D-printed valve block weighs 35% less than the titanium version and consists of fewer parts.
Additionally, the manufacturing process used to make the 3D-printed valve block is less complex, much faster and more material-efficient compared to milling, according to Liebherr-Aerospace. To make the 3D-printed part, Liebherr-Aerospace uses a laser to melt fine titanium powder, which is built up layer by layer, reducing titanium waste to a minimum.
Liebherr-Aerospace developed the 3D-printed hydraulic component, which made its first flight on March 30, in cooperation with Airbus and the Chemnitz University of Technology in Germany. The project was partly funded by the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy.
“We still have quite a way to go until we can introduce 3D-printing technology on a broad scale in the aerospace industry,” says Heiko Lütjens, Liebherr-Aerospace & Transportation’s managing director and chief technology officer, flight control and actuation systems, landing gear systems and hydraulics.
“All parts of the process chain,” from selecting the powder material and laser parameters to developing post process, “need to be optimized to improve stability, maturity and economic efficiency,” says Lütjens. “Nevertheless, the potential and vision of 3D printing will change the way future aircraft generations will be developed.”
The next generation of additive-manufacturing technology will influence the design process for aircraft components more than today's first-generation 3D-printed parts do, according to Liebherr-Aerospace. The company estimates that, at a system level, the resulting weight savings of next-generation additively manufactured parts could contribute significantly to a reduction in overall fuel consumption and in CO2 and NOx emissions in future commercial aircraft.
Toulouse-headquartered Liebherr-Aerospace & Transportation already is working on its next generation of 3D-printed hydraulic and electromechanical components, including a highly integrated rudder actuator for the A380.
Unlike the conventionally produced version, the 3D-printed rudder actuator will not have a separate valve block, a separate cylinder housing and an extra reservoir. All these parts will be integral within one monolithic, compact housing.
Liebherr-Aerospace & Transportation is one of 11 divisional control companies within the Liebherr Group and coordinates all of the group’s activities in the aerospace and transportation systems sectors.