Aircraft weight directly impacts fuel usage because more weight equals greater fuel consumption. For orbital satellites, payload weight matters when rocketing equipment off the planet. Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, will likely prove to be vital for the future of aerospace manufacturing. Major organizations, like Airbus and NASA, have already leaned on 3D printing technology to decrease weight and enable greater versatility and speed on production lines.
3D Printing Already Prevalent At Airbus
The A350 XWB built by Airbus includes over 1,000 3D-printed parts. With this process, aerospace manufacturers can achieve 50 to 80 percent weight reductions in some parts. Even modest weight reductions, like the 15 percent lower weight of a 3D-printed spacer panel on the A320, provide significant fuel savings over the course of an aircraft’s lifetime.
The Eurostar Neo series of satellites contains 500 3D-printed parts from Airbus, including radiofrequency parts used in a satellite’s multi-waveguide blocks and switch assembly networks. In addition to reducing weight, 3D printing cuts down on manufacturing and assembly times and thereby increases production efficiency. The parts manufacturing done for the Eurostar Neo series represented a big step forward for aerospace 3D printing because Airbus mass-produced the parts. They were not limited to the prototyping and testing phases.
3D Printing’s Role In Space Flight And Exploration
The newest space rovers developed by NASA include more than 70 3D-printed parts. 3D printing can handle extremely complex parts compared to traditional manufacturing that relies on tools, dyes, and casting molds. NASA engineers use 3D printing during development and testing of space rovers because they can make quick adjustments to prototypes and improve designs relatively quickly.
The growing adoption of 3D printing within the aerospace industry indicates the precision and quality achievable with the technology. How prevalent do you think 3D printing will be in the future of manufacturing?
Airbus is an international pioneer in the aerospace industry. We are a leader in designing, manufacturing and delivering aerospace products, services and solutions to customers on a global scale. We aim for a better-connected, safer and more prosperous world. As a proven leader in the global aerospace sector, Airbus designs, produces and delivers innovative solutions with the aim to create a better-connected, safer and more prosperous world.
These cutting-edge products and services – which span the commercial aircraft, helicopter, defense, security and space segments – benefit from our wide-ranging expertise and continued emphasis on innovation. A commercial aircraft manufacturer, with Space and Defense as well as Helicopters Divisions, Airbus is the largest aeronautics and space company in Europe and a worldwide leader.
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration is America’s civil space program and the global leader in space exploration. The agency has a diverse workforce of just under 18,000 civil servants, and works with many more U.S. contractors, academia, and international and commercial partners to explore, discover, and expand knowledge for the benefit of humanity.
At its 20 centers and facilities across the country – and the only National Laboratory in space – NASA studies Earth, including its climate, our Sun, and our solar system and beyond. We conduct research, testing, and development to advance aeronautics, including electric propulsion and supersonic flight. We develop and fund space technologies that will enable future exploration and benefit life on Earth.
ABOUT Eurostar Neo
Airbus Defense and Space has successfully completed a key milestone in the manufacturing of the first Eurostar Neo satellite, with the successful integration of the Service and Communication Modules of EUTELSAT HOTBIRD 13F.
François Gaullier, Head of Telecom Systems at Airbus Space Systems said: “This is an important milestone for our new generation Eurostar Neo program, and is all the more remarkable having been achieved despite the Covid pandemic. With increased payload capacity and more efficient power and thermal control systems Eurostar Neo combines major innovations with tried-and-tested technologies, resulting in a product line that will be as reliable as ever while delivering the best performance in the market.”
Airbus’ Eurostar Neo platform has been developed in the frame of the European Space Agency’s (ESA) Partnership Projects, together with the French space agency CNES, and strongly supported by the UK Space Agency and other agencies across Europe.