As aircraft liveries trend toward bolder and more intricate designs, Airbus is advancing development of an innovative computer-based system for effectively “printing” complicated graphics directly onto an aircraft’s surface.
This high-potential technique – called direct printing – already has demonstrated its capabilities for the automotive and home appliance sectors, and is now being evaluated for use on Airbus’ fuel-saving Sharklet wingtip devices.
Not only is direct printing highly flexible in terms of reproducing colours or images, it also reduces the necessary thickness for coatings. This can be a major consideration, as the amount of dielectric coating per aircraft has direct implications related to overall weight, electrical static discharge and lightning strikes.
In addition, the technique can lead to faster production times because it eliminates the need to mask and demask surface areas being painted.
“This project is exciting for us as we are the first aircraft manufacturer to consider using direct printing, and while we have more tests to perform, it is a very promising technology,” said Birgit Kuhlenschmidt of Airbus’ single-aisle product line paint shop in Hamburg, Germany, who is closely involved with the project.
Successful evaluations have been conducted at the supplier’s facility in Switzerland with a representative Sharklet wingtip device, while key lab tests for adhesion, hydraulic fluid resistance and flexibility already have been passed.