HAMBURG — The manufacturing of a jetliner is the product of an intimate and efficient cooperation across global supply and manufacturing chains and production lines, as well as decades of research and development.
During the recent Airbus Innovation Days in Hamburg, the company gave some details on novel technologies intended to improve and optimize the design and production of individual components, all the way from the conceptualization to the delivery of the aircraft to customers.
Direct Printing Technology
Ralph Maurer, Head of the A320 Family Paint shop described how engineers from the paint shop, together with the R&T department in Hamburg, Germany, have developed a new “direct printing” method to apply large and complex liveries on aircraft vertical tail planes (VTPs), an industry first.
So far, the common solutions in the industry go from adhesive film, airbrush and stencil techniques, all with few advantages and several disadvantages when compared to the new method developed by Airbus.
The new process uses industrial inkjet printers which can decorate vertical tail planes (VTP) faster, more efficiently and with finer detail than traditional methods. This is particularly interesting for those customers whose liveries include photo-realistic motifs, complex patterns or modern art paintings with color gradients. Thomson Airways is the launch customer on this new product.
The direct printer functions much like a traditional model, using a special inkjet head with nozzles that spray three basic colours (cyan, magenta and yellow) and black. The ink exhibits good has good adhesion properties and thus bonds well onto existing aviation-specific paint systems. It is applied on the so-called base-coat of the VTP and sealed/covered with a clear coat. This ensures good durability when subjected to the extreme conditions which aircraft paint has to resist (high/low temperatures, ultraviolet radiation, erosion etc.)
3D Printing: Shaping the Future of Design and Manufacturing of Components
3D Printing, also known as Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM), represents a new alternative to production processes such as milling, melting, casting and precision forging, saving resources as it just produces 5% of waste material versus 95% from current machining, besides allowing the production of detailed, highly complex bionic parts, benefiting from natural designs with optimized load factors and more efficient use of resources.
Peter Sander, Head of Emerging Technologies and Concepts recalled that the first cabin bracket featuring a bionic design, was implemented for the first time in 2014, and installed in the Airbus A350 XWB.
The combination of ALM and the bionic design creates light weight parts of up to 55% lighter, besides speeding up future development processes, in some cases up to 90%.
One of the recent developments of the company is the first 3D printed aircraft, and while it’s not at full-scale, it’s certainly presenting a major milestone to the world as a 13-foot flying drone.
The aircraft, dubbed THOR (Test of High-tech Objectives in Reality) is the perfect example of how Airbus is able to take advantage of 3D printing to set the basis to an eventual fleet of futuristic 3D-printed aircraft.
How Does Airbus Design the Future?
Charles Champion, Executive Vice president Engineering, remarked how Airbus’ key drivers to aviation of tomorrow range from the enhancement of aircraft performance to the development of sustainable aviation.
Among the different projects related to the performance improvement, Champion cited the incorporation of riblets, intended to reduce the turbulent drag in cruise, with a subsequent improvement in the fuel burn rate by 1.5%, dependent on aircraft type, mission, area applied and riblet efficiency.
The enhancement of the aircraft performance comes at hand with the improvement of the passenger experience, boosting the competitiveness among operators. Perhaps one of the most incredible concepts is the use of interactive displays, which means that the windows could be lost, opening up several display options such as projection and outside view. “Stay tuned, this isn’t that far in the future.” Champion said.