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18 November 2014
Commercial Aircraft

Innovative by nature: Airbus establishes a company-wide network for bionics projects

Airbus believes that much can be learned by studying the natural world, and in putting this philosophy into practice as a global innovation leader, the company has launched numerous projects inspired by biological systems and methods in order to develop new technical solutions. 
Modern research is giving deeper insights into complex biological systems, and imaging techniques are shedding light on the hidden secrets of nature. In order to step up its research in this field and foster exchange between various experts, Airbus has established a company-wide bionics network – which plans to meet on a regular basis and organise workshops, competitions and conferences to attract as many colleagues as possible.
“Many exciting bionics projects are going on at Airbus, but often the individual actors know too little about one another,” said Michael Sillus of Airbus’ emerging technologies and concepts (ECT) group in Germany. He added that the new bionics network will help researchers identify and leverage synergies, as well as reduce redundancy so a single topic is not researched simultaneously. 
One bionics project at Airbus seeks a new method for stiffening surfaces by leveraging physical qualities of the Victoria water lily (Victoria amazonica) – which has intrigued engineers with its superior ability to support significant point loads. The plant’s leaf vein structure provides Airbus with a model for reinforcing surfaces, and can now be found on the inner surface of a 3D-printed aircraft spoiler drawn up as part of a concept study. 
According to Peter Sander, head of the ECT group in Germany, 3D printing holds the key to making Airbus’ bionics research a reality moving forward – referring to the additive layer manufacturing process that allows on-demand, layer-by-layer printing of highly complex structures using titanium, aluminium, or plastic materials. As an example, Sander referenced a bone-shaped titanium bracket equipped on the A350 XWB, which “saves weight and will reduce costs from 2016.”
Airbus’ newly-established bionics network also taps into creative potential from external sources: 25 bionics students from the Bremen University of Applied Sciences recently kicked off a three-month project by visiting hangars at the local Airbus site, on a mission to open their eyes and minds to interesting ideas and questions.

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