Airbus opts for nature-inspired 3D printed parts

Nature is a great designer, many structures found in nature have inspired blueprints for bridges, racecars and, of course, airplanes. Following this tradition, the companies Airbus, Autodesk and its studio The Living as well as Apworks have 3D printed a bionic partition to serve as a barrier between the seating area and the galley in an Airbus A320 jet. The structure was modeled after the human bone, which combines high strength with low weight.

Nature is a great designer, many structures found in nature have inspired blueprints for bridges, racecars and, of course, airplanes. Following this tradition, the companies Airbus, Autodesk and its studio The Living as well as Apworks have 3D printed a bionic partition to serve as a barrier between the seating area and the galley in an Airbus A320 jet. The structure was modeled after the human bone, which combines high strength with low weight.

When thinking about airplane design, partitions that separate different areas of the cabin are probably not the first items that come to mind. Yet everything matters when trying to reduce the weight of an airplane, which, in turn, means cost savings by reducing the amount of fuel needed and a lower environmental impact due to fewer CO2 emissions. Cabin partitions are typically relatively heavy, they need to be equipped with seats for the cabin crew and places for emergency stretchers.

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The company Apworks, based in Aachen, Germany, is involved in the development of bionic parts to reduce the weight of airplanes. The company specializing in metal printing is an Airbus spin-off and was created to serve as a link between Airbus’ research arm and other companies.

The large bionic partition for the A320 Airbus was 3D printed in a new super-strong, lightweight alloy called scalmalloy, using direct metal laser sintering technology. Scalmalloy was developed by Apworks and is an alloy of aluminum, magnesium, and scandium.

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The bionic design of the partition is the work of the studio The Living, which was acquired by Autodesk last year. The partition consists of a web-like pattern that forms a network of optimized load-bearing points. The design was created with Autodesk’s powerful software and algorithms in a method called iterative design that generates tens of thousands of design iterations to finally find the best one with the highest strength to weight ratio.

This is the first time a metal 3D printed part was designed for the plane’s cabin. The new partition that is currently undergoing crash testing to get certified is at 63 pounds 45 % lighter than conventional partitions. When applied to the entire cabin and to the current backlog of A320 planes, Airbus estimates that the new design approach could save up to 465,000 metric tons of CO2 emissions per year.

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