A Swiss aircraft project will advance composites technology for the aircraft industry by a factor of two to three, says Andre Borschberg, CEO of a company called Solar Impulse, which will launch its first test flight next year of the manned solar-powered airplane. I caught up with Borschberg on the floor of one of the close to 20 buildings at the sprawling K 2007 in Düsseldorf, Germany. “Its unusual, for example, to use high-modulus carbon fibers,” said Borshberg. Get this: the wing span on the final model will be 80 meters, the same as the Airbus A380, which weighs 560 metric tons. The craft Borshberg will help pilot around the globe in about 12 four years will weigh just two tons. It will be powered by the latest in electric motor technology. The solar panels will only provide enough electricity to light up a very large Christmas tree, requiring enormous effort to keep weight low. The planes will fly at night on battery power. Solvay Advanced Polymers of Alpharetta, GA is a development partner for the plane and is already well along on a shielded throttle housing.
How 3D printing fits into the digital thread, and the relationship between its uses for prototyping and for manufacturing, was the subject of a talk by Proto Labs' Rich Baker at last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis.
How can automakers, aerospace contractors, and other OEMs get new metal alloys that are stronger, harder, and can survive ever higher temperatures? One way is to redesign their crystalline structures at the nanoscale and microscale.
Although a lot of the excitement about 3D printing and additive manufacturing surrounds its ability to make end-products and functional prototypes, some often ignored applications are the big improvements that can come by using it for tooling, jigs, and fixtures.
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