Early this August the world of 3d printing turned it sights to the UK’s Wiltshire Downs, north of Stonehenge, as the worlds first fully “printed” plane took flight, achieving a max speed of 100mph.
This new printed aircraft, known as SULSA, forms part of a wider project on cutting-edge maufacturing techniques at the Southhampton University. The team led by Jim Scanlan and Andy Keane belive that 3d printing will revolutionise the design and manufacture of uncrewed aircraft known as drones or UAV’s, allowing for enhanced design, lower lead times and significant cost reductions over traditional methods.
Using 3d printing technology it was possible to for design team to take elements from some of the best ideas in aviation history such as the ultra low drag eliptical wing design of the Supermarine Spitfire and the strong geodesic airfrome of the Vickers Wellington bomber. With a £5000 budget the incorporation of these designs using traditional manufacturing techniques would have been cost prohibitive, however the use of laser sintering removed such cost constraints.
As 3d printing is based on additive technology no cutting or grinding of metal is required allowing vast design freedom. “With 3d printing we can go back to pure forms and explore the mathematics of airflow without being forced to put in straight lines to keep costs down” Keane explained. The design of the SULSA took a mere two days with production of final parts taking five days to complete.
Watch the SULSA’s maiden flight below.
Since the early 1900′s the manufacturing industry has been dominated by mass production and the moving production line. With greater access to information and a wider choice of suppliers now available at the touch of a button, a growing market has emerged for mass customisation of products. Take for example Dell Computers they have successfully created a business model which focuses on the mass customisation of laptops and desktop computers, consumers can log on and “build” a computer that matches their individual needs.
3D printing may unlock the potential of this new and growing market. Not a new concept 3D printing was traditionally constrained to the production of one off items from fused plastic or metal powder, but now very big corporations have begun to sit up take note of its potential. Once such corporation is EADS, earlier this year the firms aircraft plant near Bristol announced that they had produced a bike using additive layer technology. The firm also relies on 3D printing to produce complex satellite parts which are lighter and more cost effective than conventionally – machined components.
Further evidence of the future potential of Rapid Prototyping can be found at Loughborough University where researchers have developed a 3d printer that uses concrete to “print” large (2m x 2.5m x 5m) components. Should the researchers be able to prove the reliability 3D concrete printing it could dramatically reshape the construction industry.
For designers 3D printing puts them at centre of the manufacturing process, ensuring the power of making this is firmly in the hands of the designers. For finance directors and managers the ability to reduce stock and working capital presents significant cost savings while for the consumer 3d printing presents the opportunity to source products that better meet their actual needs.