BANGKOK—Airbus incorporates additive manufactured parts on its A350, and it also is digitally redesigning components for other platforms to avoid sourcing them from a new supplier—especially on legacy platforms.
“3D printing is a fantastic tool and is something Airbus is already using in a very opportunistic way,” said Cyrille Schwob, Airbus head of technology–Asia Pacific, speaking at the Aerospace & MRO Summit Bangkok last week when discussing new technologies in the aviation maintenance segment. which also looked at the use of drones in aircraft inspections.
Schwob says the benefits of 3D printing included negating the need for necessary parts, particularly those found on more mature aircraft variants. “For legacy products, it makes sense to never need to create a new supplier just to produce 10 parts, for example, on older aircraft,” he says. “There’s a lot of hype about it [3D printing] but it’s just one of a few tools used to create more efficient supply chains.”
However, going down the route of 3D printing parts isn’t an easy process with cost and time being two challenges, he says. “When printing a 3D printed part to fit on an aircraft with an AOG, if the part was not made to be 3D printed in the first place, then it means that the part needs to be re-designed with a new material or a new process being carried out by another supplier that needs to be re-qualified. Not only does this process cost money but it also costs time as parts need to be tested against the design." Following this, Schwob says the 3D printed part needs to be taken to inspect the surface finish. "It's actually a very lengthy and costly process," he adds.
In the future, Schwob predicts a new landscape forming around Airbus’ use of additive manufactured components. “We foresee one or two big suppliers with on-demand capabilities for a range of parts pre-approved for design in 3D printing,” he says. Schwob predicts these suppliers will typically possess a handful of 3D printing machines covering different types of materials fitted with surface finishing capabilities for components.