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According to a recent article in 3D Printer World, the European aircraft manufacturer Airbus is forging an alliance with China's North Western Polytechnical University (NPU) to develop aerospace 3d printing that can be applied to the commercial aviation industry. Airbus’ main competitor, Boeing, is already delving into 3d printing of aircraft parts in a big way.
NOU will use Laser Solid Forming technology to build aircraft parts from a titanium alloy to Airbus’s specifications. The parts will then be measured and evaluated by Airbus.
Airbus is not only looking into using 3d printing to create aircraft parts, but are also contemplating using the additive manufacturing technique to create entire airframes. 3d printing would also be useful for creating spare parts on demand at repair facilities, eliminating the need to warehouse parts for future use.
Airbus, like its competitors, has concluded that 3d printed aircraft parts will allow for the building of aircraft that will be lighter and more durable. Additive manufacturing will save on the cost of materials. Finally, lighter aircraft will create cost savings for fuel, thus making them cheaper to operate by owners such as airlines. This would at least match the competitive advantage that Boeing and other companies are developing using similar manufacturing techniques.
The choice of a Chinese institution likely means that China will be able to develop its own 3d printing technology that will benefit its aerospace sector. NPU is located in Xi’an, the provincial capital of Shaanxi. NPU offers programs in aeronautics, astronautics and marine technology as well as management, humanities, economics and law.