Airbus successfully completed its first ever flight with a 3D printed flight control hydraulic component with its flight-test A380. The part, a spoiler actuator valve block, was 3D printed in titanium an weighs a whopping 35 percent less than the traditionally manufactured titanium version. According to Liebherr-Aerospace, the company which produced the component for Airbus, both quality and performance matched that of the traditional valve block while consisting fewer parts.
Aside from the lesser weight and parts, the 3D printed valve block is also produced in a much faster, efficient process that is also a lot less complex. Liebherr-Aerospace 3D printed the part in a titanium powder, minimizing waste material. The component, which received partial funding from the German Federal Ministry of Economic Affairs and Energy, made its first flight on March 30th. Airbus worked in collaboration with Germany’s Chemnitz University of Technology to make this flight possible. According to Heiko Lütjens, Managing Director and Chief Technology Officer of Flight Control, Actuation Systems, Landing Gear Systems and Hydraulics:
“We still have quite a way to go until we can introduce 3D-printing technology on a broad scale in the aerospace industry…All parts of the process chain (from selecting the powder material and laser parameters to developing post process) need to be optimized to improve stability, maturity and economic efficiency,…Nevertheless, the potential and vision of 3D printing will change the way future aircraft generations will be developed.”
Sources at Liebherr-Aerospace went on to provide that the future technological advances in additive manufacturing will play a major role in future aircraft component design and production processes. They have estimated that as the technology is developed and advanced, more 3D printed parts will be produced, ultimately reducing fuel consumption and emissions. The firm has already broken ground on creating both hydraulic and electromechanical parts with 3D printing, as well as a rudder actuator for the A380. The current rudder actuator is consists of a separate valve block, cylinder housing and reservoir, but the 3D printed rudder actuator can – and will – be produced as one housing.