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Airbus, Chinese university sign 3D manufacturing deal

19 Mar 2014

Partners to identify new applications for laser 3D printing in commercial aviation.

Commercial aircraft manufacturer Airbus and China’s North Western Polytechnical University (NPU) have signed an agreement to cooperate on researching ways to further apply 3D printing technology in the aviation sector.

Under the agreement, NPU will manufacture test specimens of titanium alloy parts for Airbus using its established Laser Solid Forming technology. The samples will be manufactured according to Airbus specifications and be measured and assessed by Airbus.

"We are pleased to have been selected by Airbus, the world’s leading aircraft manufacturer, as a partner to explore ways of applying 3D printing technology,” said NPU President Weng Zhiqian. “This project is a test for our 3D research capability and we are confident we will deliver satisfactory results to establish a solid foundation for further cooperation."

Rafael Gonzalez-Ripoll, COO of Airbus China, added, "Joint research projects between Airbus and Chinese universities are an important part of the growing strategic partnership between Airbus and China. This initiative is further evidence of Airbus’ continuing search for capturing the best ideas in the world and turning them into industrially effective technologies."

Airbus is exploring the use of 3D printing technology to manufacture individual parts or even larger airframe structures for the company’s range of aircraft. The company is also working towards spare part solutions with this technology, which is ideal for producing cost-effective, out-of-production aircraft parts.

The manufacturer says that 3D printing technology could transform fabrication of airplane parts because it is potentially cheaper, and could result in components that are up to 55% lighter than those produced using traditional manufacturing methods. This technology offers greater manufacturing flexibility, a promising reduction in the manufacturing process's environmental footprint as well as cost- and weight-saving potential. The technique is ideally suited to producing low volume parts and for prototyping.

To explore further uses of 3D printing in aviation, Airbus has signed a cooperation agreement with China’s Northwestern Polytechnical University, which will use its Laser Solid Forming technology to manufacture test titanium alloy parts.

About the Author

Matthew Peach is a contributing editor to optics.org

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