Could A 3D Printed Plane Be On The Horizon?

The benefits of 3D printing have caught the attention of a number of industries and the more this technology matures, additive manufacturing continues to prove itself. The aerospace industry is particularly interested in experimenting with 3D printing in their manufacturing processes.

Airbus is diving into the world of 3D printing head first as they recently set up a separate corporate venture capital fund worth $150 million intended for innovative technology investments. The aerospace manufacturer has already implemented 3D printing into their latest engine and plane designs. Airbuses A350 XWB engine features over 1000 3D printed components but now they’re looking to improve the entire industry by furthering the development of 3D printing technology for aerospace manufacturing.

Airbus has set their sights on the 3D printed car pioneers Local Motors as their first beneficiary. Local Motors has designed and printed what could be the world’s first fully 3D printed car for the mass market and Airbus is paying close attention. The road-worthy 3D printed car known as the LM3D Swim is expected to hit the roads sometime in 2016.

With Local Motors making progress in designing and printing a car that is 75% plastic and carbon fiber, Airbus is looking at how to bring this innovative thinking over to the aerospace industry. Local Motors has focused on crowdsourcing engineering designs and making them suitable for distributed factory manufacturing which could help Airbus understand the logistics surrounding a possible 3D printed plane.

Local Motors might not be the obvious choice, but their experience and success with 3D printing could be the foundation of an amazing partnership. 3D printing isn’t the only think Local Motors does, but it is a huge part of their manufacturing process. Being able to build products faster and more efficiently with additive manufacturing has been proven at Local Motors.

It is still unclear how much of the $150 million fund will be investing into Local Motors directly. More partnerships are expected to be made soon, all of which will focus around aerospace, data analytics, production and other technologies.

3D printing is already being tested in rocket engines by NASA, and new metal 3D printing techniques have proven themselves to be able to create reliable and durable components. Auto manufacturers have been using 3D printing for non-critical components as well to cut down of production times and increase efficiency. However, Local Motors is a true pioneer because of the fact that their vehicle is made up of a majority of 3D printed components.

Airbus’s partnership with Local Motors could be an amazing way to accelerate the development of a 3D printed plane. With more materials available than ever before, 3D printing is quickly becoming a more attractive manufacturing option for the aerospace industry. The success of the 3D printed vehicle has yet to be seen, but road tests have proven the concept works. If aerospace manufacturers can transfer over this idea to the aerospace industry, there’s no telling what amazing benefits could come out of it. The partnership between Airbus and Local Motors may seem strange at first, but once it is investigated further, the benefits become clear.