Courtesy Airliners

Next: the whole plane

Rapid prototyping, or 3-D printing, has been used to create all kinds of amazing objects in a variety of media, but a team working under EADS in the UK wants to print something heretofore unheard of: the entire wing of an airliner. Working at the same facility where Concordes were once built, researchers there are already printing landing gear brackets and other aircraft components in hopes that one day they’ll be able to print out many of the critical parts for an entire aircraft.

This is chiefly due to developments that allow modern 3-D printers to turn out finished objects in media ranging from the high-grade titanium alloys necessary for aircraft construction to glass, plastics, concrete, and even frosting.

It’s also within the realm of possibility that the company could build an entire aircraft–piece by piece–in one place, sidestepping some of the supply-chain problems that have delayed the Airbus A380.

Experts in the field now say 20 percent of the output of the world’s 3-D printers is final products, and that’s expected to rise to 50 percent by 2020. In other words, people are prototyping and manufacturing on the same machines.

If you could print an airline wing that can stand up to wind-tunnel tests, you could print just about anything. 3-D printing lowers the cost of entry into manufacturing for any number of enterprises.

If EADS is already printing aircraft components, the automakers are likely to get on board. New for 2035, the printed Corvette.




  1. Just Looking says:

    But if you just print out a wing won’t it tear when it tries to fly ?

    Ha… paper airplane

  2. nobody says:

    PC Load Letter /

  3. What? says:

    When people can be printed, people will cease to exist.

  4. admfubar says:

    energize !

  5. kucing says:

    *Warning Wing Jam*

    Please check your wing in feeder A, and press ENTER to continue printing.

  6. Gulliver says:

    #3 I saw this technology about 5 years ago being successfuly applied in manufacturing replacement parts by reverse engineering.
    Since then, the people part has been replaced by robots. They chose not to print the people.

  7. Dallas says:

    Print a flyer ? Har.

  8. bobbo, had enough dogma today? says:

    and thats why “Plastics is the future.” And the “next” future has already made this “pieces is pieces” manufacturing obsolete: self assembling nanobots.

    The future is so bright, I gotta wear shades.

  9. What? says:

    I don’t think you understand how large scale “nanotechnology” is.

    For example, there are about 1.0 x 10^25 iron atoms in 2.2 pounds of steel.

    Or: 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 atoms.

  10. sargasso_c says:

    The structural design will be different to conventional aircraft. It will resemble something organic.

  11. bobbo, had enough dogma today? says:

    Here is what the future rolls right over: “You don’t understand……”

    and so it goes.

    Looks to me you have confused the working blocks of nanotechnology with the application of self assembling nanobots?

    Alfie–what do you have to Spam-Bot about this?

  12. It all came from says:

    Its amazing how all of this comes from simple inkjet printing technologies which HP engineers tried to put a stop two repeatedly as it was an anathema to them that they would sell a product ( inkjet cartridges ) that would be disposable and tossed out in the trash

  13. soundwash says:

    I wonder how many humans they have attempted to print thus far..

    -s

  14. overtemp says:

    The final bet of technology that Skynet needs.

  15. Ah_Yea says:

    Notice the tagline to this blog is not correct?

    The tagline says “Airbus Engineers To Print Out An Entire Aircraft Wing”

    Whereas the actual engineers say “wants to print something heretofore unheard of”.

    “To print” is not anywhere near “want to print”.

  16. Animby says:

    I told you to let it dry! Look, you’ve smeared the ailerons!

    Poop! The aluminum cartridge is empty … again! In the old days you could get 50 or 60 wings from a single cartridge. Now you’re lucky if you get 10! Call ALCOA and see if they can refill an H-P cartridge.

  17. MikeN says:

    So now people will go from illegal downloading to illegal printing.

  18. msbpodcast says:

    The hardest thing in the world to sell to American IT is the concept of a prototype.

    My old bosses always figured that it should work the first time. Bwahahahaha!!! Oh man, I slay myself. (This is the ump-teenth implementation of the <system> and you expect it to work right? Why? You were wrong every time before. Why should this time be any different?)

    Now they’ve suposed to have got around the entire mess by going into production runs of such limited quantities that they should rightly be called prototypes.

    Well, I guess. Google for a long time only put out betas.

    Imagine the fun when you’re flying along at near Mach 1 and you tear off a wing at 35,000 feet. (You should have read LearJet’s EULA on the X-Series models, they were all betas and prototypes.)

  19. Matt says:

    Looks like I need to fire up my MakerBot!

  20. smartalix says:

    To be technical, it would be Microbots using Nanoscale technology.

  21. Norman Speight says:

    No doubt they will be sued by Apple, Microsoft or some other Death Star corporation for pirating some obscure patent which was never used but which they have the usual death grip on.

    I’m frightened to even breath these days because of the certainty that some huge corporate in the US has not issued me a licence.
    I understand that India has to pay millions every year to some US corporation for the right to use (medically) some spice compound which was in use before America was even discovered.
    Land of the free?

  22. Animby says:

    # 22 Norman Speight said, “I understand that India has to pay millions every year to some US corporation for the right to use (medically) some spice compound”

    I understand your frustration and I get the point. But, I’m driven to ask you to document this claim. India does not necessarily care about patent claims on medicines. They are probably the world’s leader in selling knockoffs of expensive patented medicines. I can’t see them paying through the nose for a mixture of spices…

  23. EnemyOfTheState says:

    I thought they were working on a kidney for me.

  24. Nobody says:

    #19 – it could be the exact opposite. The tooling for a pressed Al part (never mind Ti) is so huge that you can’t make prototypes. You design it on a computer with FEA, make it, fly it – and redesign it if there is a crash!

    With this rapid prototyping you could make a test piece of a vital part and put real hours into it on a test flight or a testing rig and then discover the flaws

  25. Nobody says:

    #22 – yes tumeric, although Sanskrit doctors were writing about it’s use 2000 years before America was discovered they forgot to register it with the FDA.

    But nobody actually pays – it got laughed out of court. However the counter suit for the western use of the Hindu numerals ‘0-9’ might be a bit more difficult to get around. It’s going to be difficult to do binary without zero!

  26. Animby says:

    # 26 Nobody said, “However the counter suit for the western use of the Hindu numerals ’0-9′ might be a bit more difficult to get around.”

    I heard they forgot to renew the patent.

    As for turmeric – well, it’s not a bad topical antiseptic and does have some anti-inflammatory properties but the natural healing mavens give it almost magical attributes – fights cancer, cures depression, etc. Pretty much all bunk and hokum. I remember a herbalist once told me it detoxifies the liver. I’ve never met a toxic liver. In fact, most of them spend their entire careers detoxifying the blood and then getting rid of those toxins by themselves.

    But, you’re right. There is no patent on turmeric and, if it ever did go to court, I believe it would be laughed out.

    # 24 EnemyOfTheState said, “I thought they were working on a kidney for me.” If you need one, good luck. In fact, there is a biological printer and they are in the very early stages of being able to “print” new organs. I doubt I’LL ever see one ready for implantation but they are working on it.

  27. chuck says:

    If the ink for the “wing printer” is priced at the same rate as regular HP ink, then a wing will cost $6 trillion (est.) to print.

  28. f_w says:

    And say hello to less jobs.
    The end product is cheaper, no doubt, but will there be enough people still having jobs at the end?

  29. deowll says:

    Print a human? So how many of you will be printing your next girl friend or boy friend?

  30. PcMonster says:

    Where do you use frosting on an airplane?


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