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3D-Printed Plane Takes Flight

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Beth Stackpole
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Re: Wing Complexity
Beth Stackpole   8/29/2011 9:55:25 AM
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Ivan: Given that you worked at Boeing and obviously know far more about the use of this kind of technology and the complexities involved in aircraft wing development, I'm going to defer to you on this one.

So perhaps it is a bit far-fetched at this point, but projects like this are becoming more commonplace. My point was that efforts like the SULSA and the Urbee (and the many others we've reported on and will report on) all play a key role in advancing additive manufacturing technology so it can be used at commercially at some point on this kind of scale. As for the advantages, the research team cited the ability to more cost-effectively produce hard-to-manufacture shapes and structures and reduced reliance on expensive tooling. I guess the bottom line is we'll have to wait and see.

Ivan Kirkpatrick
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Wing Complexity
Ivan Kirkpatrick   8/29/2011 9:34:42 AM
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I am not so sure I can agree with your comment about it being "not so far fetched".  From what I know of modern commercial aircraft wings, they are very complex mechanical constructions that are highly stressed.  I have watched video of a "test to failure" when I worked at Boeing on a new wing for one of the big airliners.  The wing is displaced with an array of cables while stress gauges take measurements.  The failure is rather dramatic even in a controlled environment.

I am impressed with the progress being made in additive manufacturing and it will definitely have a place in producing production parts and assemblies.  However a modern commercial aircraft wing requires structural loads that would seem to be inconsistent with the nylon materials mentioned in the article.

What would be the advantages to be obtained in using this manufacturing technique in a production setting?  I can see speed and perhaps cost, maybe consistency in shape and strength?  Corrosion resistance and maintainability might be a factor as well.

It just seems like the best application for this technology is going to be in lightly loaded applications.  If that is true then carefully selecting the applications for the manufacturing process would be required as I am sure they are doing right now.

It is a very interesting project nonetheless and one to watch.

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