Airbus presents 3D-printed mini aircraft

3dbaz – Windowless, weighing in at just 21 kilos (46 pounds) and less than four metres (13 feet) long, the drone Thor—short for “Test of High-tech Objectives in Reality”—resembles a large, white model airplane.

Yet to the European aerospace giant Airbus, the small pilotless propeller aircraft is a pioneer that offers a taste of things to come—an aviation future when 3D printing technology promises to save time, fuel and money.

“This is a test of what’s possible with 3D printing technology,” said Detlev Konigorski, who was in charge of developing Thor for Airbus, speaking at the International Aerospace Exhibition and Air Show at Berlin’s southern Schoenefeld airport.

“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.

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The little plane “flies beautifully, it is very stable,” said its chief engineer Gunnar Haase, who conducted Thor’s inaugural flight last November near the northern German city of Hamburg.

Lighter, faster, cheaper

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.

“The printed pieces have the advantage of requiring no tools and that they can be made very quickly,” said Jens Henzler of Bavaria-based Hofmann Innovation Group, which specialises in the new technology.

The metal parts produced can also be 30-50 percent lighter than in the past, and there is almost zero manufacturing waste, added Henzler, who is managing director for Hofmann industrial prototyping.

The sky is not the limit for the technology—engineers also plan to use it in space.

Source : AFP

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