Airbus Adds Metal 3-D-Printed Parts to A350 XWB

    24 August, 2014

    From VOA Learning English, this is the Technology Report.

    European airplane maker Airbus plans to have new passenger airplanes by the end of the year. The new models will use some of the most modern technologies, including metal parts made in a 3-D printer.

    The high price of airline travel is largely the result of fuel cost. So airplane manufacturers want to build lighter planes with more fuel efficient engines. They also want their planes to to have more seats.

    Airbus Adds Metal 3-D-Printed Parts to A350 XWB
    The third A350 XWB test plane with a 'carbon' livery unveiled at Airbus HQ in Toulouse on January 2, 2014.

    Modern airplanes like the large Boeing 787 Dreamliner are made from a mixture of plastic and carbon materials. The current Airbus A350 plane uses plastic parts created in a 3-D printer. But the model XWB plane will be the first with parts printed in the hard metal titanium. Peter Sander of Airbus says company technicians learned to print very complex shapes.

    "Normally this is a part of the fuel system, it's two pipes in one, and it's normally welded out of 10 parts. So in this case, with 3-D printing we have the chance to integrate the bracket of the pipe and two pipes at once and print it in one shot," Sander said.

    3-D printing also helps when parts are no longer available. Mr. Sander tells of a time Airbus engineers needed an extra part for airplane seats that was no longer made, he says it was easy to print perfect copies.

    "So we did a redesign in a week and printing in a week. So the redesign itself cost two hours, we took the manual drawing, redesigned it and put it on the desk one week later to the spare part guys," Sander said.

    The technology is developing quickly. Axel Krein is vice president of research and technology at Airbus. He says that the number of printed airplane parts will continue to increase overtime.

    "We are investing a lot of money in aerodynamic improvement, in material, in noise reduction, etc., but 3-D printing is probably the area with the highest gain over time," Krein said.

    U.S. company General Electric says it is investing $50 million in a new 3-D printing factory. The factory will print fuel parts for airplane engines.

    And that's the VOA Learning English Technology Report. For more technology stories, go to our website Give us a like on Facebook, follow us on twitter at VOA Learning English. You can also watch videos on the VOA Learning English YouTube channel. I'm Jonathan Evans.