A new technique that has the potential of revolutionizing current-generation production methods is being evaluated for use across Airbus, with such technology demonstrators as struts and pipes already made, and the first A350 XWB component – a door bracket for the A350-1000 – now in manufacture.
Called Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM), this method uses 3D printing to “grow” products from the fine powder of a base material – such as aluminium, titanium, stainless steel, nylon and carbon fibre – by adding numerous thin layers of the material in incremental stages.
With this 3-D “printing,” the ALM process enables very complex geometries to be produced directly from computer-aided design (CAD) information without the need for dies, form tools or moulds.
"Additive Layer Manufacturing allows us to produce higher-performance products than conventional manufacturing techniques," said Peter Sander of the Airbus Innovation Cell organisation, who is promoting ALM across Airbus. "In the future, we will produce functional parts which are beyond our imagination at present."
Components produced with the ALM process are “grown” by adding successive layers and built as one piece with all the cavities, ribs or integrated pipes included – which allows for a high degree of geometrical freedom. It takes two hours for the 200-watt laser to complete the print job, consuming low levels of power.
In addition, ALM utilises significantly less raw material for any given component, and produces negligible levels of waste in comparison to traditional machining processes – in which up to 90 percent of the material may need to be removed. "This is eco-efficiency at its best," Sander added.