European aerospace manufacturer Airbus says its pioneering use of a 3D printed titanium bracket in its A350-XWB aircraft - set for delivery to customers by the end of the year - could herald a new future for aerospace production. Joel Flynn flies by.
The A350-XWB on manoeuvres at Farnborough International Airshow, ahead of planned delivery to customers later this year. But this aircraft isn't impressing just for its agility. It's one of the first commercial planes to fly with titanium 3D printed parts. Airbus research boss Axel Krein says the technology is taking off across the industry. SOUNDBITE: Airbus Senior Vice President Research And Technology, Axel Krein, saying (English): "We've made some significant progress over the last weeks and months basically, we have now even titanium parts flying on our aircraft, on our A350." The ability to print parts isn't new, but Airbus say they're one of the first to trial 3D printing - also known as additive layer manufacturing - in commercial aviation. Weight and cost are vital in aviation technology, and Airbus tech manager Peter Sander says that's where 3D printing could be a game-changer. SOUNDBITE: Airbus Emerging Technologies And Concepts Manager, Peter Sander, saying (English): "In this case, with 3D printing we have the chance to integrate the bracket of the pipe and two pipes at once and print it in one shot. So in this case we have weight reduction, but of course in this case we also have a cost reduction down to 30 percent." The potential for 3D printing in aviation is huge - General Electric has just announced $50 million will be invested in machines for it. But Krein warns against get too carried away yet. SOUNDBITE: Airbus Senior Vice President Research And Technology, Axel Krein, saying (English): "Before we are going to print a whole aircraft out of 3D that will probably take a long, long time, but the amount of components to be done from 3D printing is going to be significantly increased." The future of 3D printing and aviation - the sky really could be the limit.