Finnair’s passengers will soon see cabin parts that have been generated by 3D printing. By using 3D printing technology, Airbus has enabled small-batch manufacturing that is quicker and less costly than usual moulding techniques for new parts that are needed after a cabin refit. It also means the aircraft can go back into use faster.
The traditional method of manufacturing a new plastic part involves creating custom-made injection moulding tooling – a process that is relatively complex, especially given the specialised nature of many components and the limited number needed for a typical cabin retrofit.
Aesthetically pleasing printed parts
Now many components can be produced using 3D printing, which are as strong as those made with normal moulding, but they can weigh less. This is an important consideration for jetliner interiors, where every kilogram counts. Although 3D-printed parts have been used in Airbus aircraft before, the results were not aesthetically pleasing enough to be used where passengers could see them.
Through a partnership with the Belgium-based Materialise company, Airbus has now integrated the first 3D-printed parts into cabins of jetliners, such as spacer panels that fill end-gaps in a row of overhead storage compartments. They have been installed as part of the updated layout of Finnair’s A320 aircraft.
The panels are 15% lighter than if made using conventional production methods. The 3D technology could also be used for complex internal support structures, such as lattices inside the panels, without extra manufacturing costs.