Back in 2015, global defense and aerospace manufacturer Airbus proved itself to be a major supporter of 3D printing technology, teaming up with companies like Stratasys to help them develop over 1,000 3D printed parts for the Airbus A350 XWB aircraft, and with Rolls-Royce to 3D print an enormous part for the engines. After their Head of Emerging Technologies & Concepts Pete Sanders promised even more involvement in industrial 3D printing for 2016, recent news proves that Airbus is truly putting their skin in the game. Announcing an investment in both themselves and the Phoenix-based co-creation community Local Motors, Airbus’ expansion into emerging technologies like 3D printing has made them a beacon of innovation within the aerospace industry.
After recently announcing the start of Airbus Ventures, a $150 million corporate venture capital fund, Airbus Group has announced that Local Motors will be the first company to receive a portion of the investment money. For those who are unfamiliar with the amazing 3D print-driven work being undertaken by Local Motors, they are currently in the process of creating road-ready 3D printed car models that will even capable of cruising on the freeway. The investment will not only help Local Motors expand upon their own projects, but Airbus believes that this funding will also help with the defense giant’s own product development as well. Though it is unknown exactly how much of the $150 million Local Motors is receiving from the Airbus Group, the news itself shows that Airbus is serious about further implementing and improving industrial 3D printing for optimal use within their aircraft.
“As part of our investment thesis, we think about advancements happening in product development, and one of those is 3D printing. As we’ve looked into that, Local Motors just kept popping up,” Airbus Ventures CEO Tim Dombrowski said in a recent interview with TechCrunch. “3D printing isn’t the core of what they do, but it’s a big part of their manufacturing process and lets them build products rapidly.”
Airbus isn’t just looking for innovative help from the outside, their subsidiary Airbus Helicopters has been using 3D printing to prototype new windshield wiper designs. Utilizing the German RepRap X400 3D printer, the engineering team has been able conduct numerous tests on the functionality and serviceability of the windshield wiper prototype at a much lower cost than conventional manufacturing methods would allow. This also allowed the team to constantly revise the 3D model in order to quickly implement necessary components into the design such as gears, levers, and shafts.
These two announcements prove that Airbus is definitely placing a heavy wager on 3D printing technology and the many ways it can be applied. Though they have managed 3D printing success in the past, what’s really exciting to me is the potential of seeing the technology behind Local Motors’ fully functional 3D printed car take off from the road up into the limitless sky via future Airbus aircraft models.