3D printing: Sturdier yet lighter parts for airliner pantry
The secret of the component’s sturdiness lies in its inner structure: It mimics the cellular structure of bones. To enable the 3D printing process, the aircraft manufacturer utilised sophisticated custom algorithms that required the combined computing power of multiple CPUs synchronised in a cloud network. This ‘bionic’ structure has been developed in a collaboration between Airbus, its subsidiary APWorks, CAD software vendor Autodesk, and an Autodesk studio that specialises in applying generative design across a wide spectrum of applications.
As with many aircraft components, the partition had to meet extreme design and structural requirements, including specific cut-outs and weight limits, making the generative design approach particularly appropriate. Designed in a structurally strong, but lightweight micro-lattice shape, Airbus’ bionic partition is 45 % or 30 kg lighter than current designs. When applied to the entire cabin and to the current backlog of A320 planes, Airbus estimates that the new design approach can save up to 465,000 metric tons of C02 emissions per year, the equivalent of taking about 96,000 passenger cars off the road for one year.
The material used was Scalmalloy, a second-generation aluminium-magnesium-scandium alloy created by APWorks, an Airbus subsidiary focused on additive manufacturing and advanced materials. Scalmalloy is specifically designed for use in 3D printing and offers excellent mechanical properties, meaning that it will stretch more before breaking. This is the first time it has been used on a large scale inside an aircraft component.
The ability to harness infinite numbers of central processing units through cloud computing have made possible significant advances in design and engineering. 3D printing – or generative design – capitalizes on the cloud to compute large sets of design alternatives – hundreds to thousands – that meet specific goals and constraints. Generative design can explore new solutions that even experienced designers might not have considered, while improving design quality and performance. Because the designs created are nearly impossible to manufacture using traditional methods, additive manufacturing techniques like 3D printing are critical to generative design’s success.
3-D printed aircraft parts will save weight, fuel says study