Airbus A350 Airbus A350 The Airbus A350 XWB utilizes over 1,000 3D printed parts. (Photo: S. Ramadier / Airbus)

Whoa! Airbus is using 3D printed parts for its airplanes

Aircraft manufacturer embraces the 3D printing technology to reduce costs, fuel and time.

Need further proof of how quickly 3D printing is transforming industries around the world? If you happen to be flying in an Airbus A350 XWB aircraft while reading this, the evidence is actually all around you.

The French aircraft manufacturer used more than 1,000 3D-printed parts for its latest flagship commercial plane, part of a growing effort by the airline industry to embrace new cost-cutting and time-saving technologies. To leverage the power of 3D printing, Airbus turned to Stratasys, a firm that specializes in the manufacturer of these products from its dual headquarters in America and Israel.

"3D printing is a technology that has seen rapid adoption within aerospace," Stratasys' Scott Sevcik told Bloomberg News. "It's uniquely suited to the volumes that we see in aerospace, as well as the industry's need to reduce weight and push the envelope in terms of increasing performance of vehicles through advancing technologies."

To create these new, advanced parts, Airbus is utilizing Stratasys' line of 3D productions systems, featuring printers similar in size to the models that are helping make the world's first 3D printed car a reality. The company printed each part, layer by layer, using a high-performance resin that's not only lightweight and incredibly strong, but also FST (flame, smoke and toxicity) compliant for aircraft interiors.

For the airline industry, the benefits of 3D printing are already being labeled as revolutionary. Not only do the parts cost substantially less than traditional manufacturing, but they also result in less metal waste (since all of the metal printed is used), feature quick turnaround times from concept to product, and take less total energy to produce. And because the printers themselves are relatively compact, Airbus can strategically place them to reduce the costs and time constraints of shipping replacement parts worldwide.

"We're at the start of the revolution for 3D printing in the aircraft industry," Curtis Carson, head of systems integration for Airbus, said in a video. "We're now being able to discover exactly where we can apply it, how we can apply it, and understanding the scope of the benefit it can bring into the aircraft as a whole."

Airbus anticipates that the first 3D-printed metal parts on commercial airlines will take place in 2016, with mass production by 2018. At that point, it expects to print 30 tons of metallic parts for its fleet of aircraft every month.

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