Presented at the Berlin Air Show, the small-sized “Thor” attracted an impressive crowd albeit being one of the small airplanes on display. The reason behind its popularity was the fact that Thor is the world’s first 3D printed aircraft.
The windowless airplane is shorter than four meters in length and weighs around 21 kilos. The name of the plane is Thor, an acronym for Test of High-tech Objectives in Reality. Thor is pretty much like a huge white model airplane.
The European aerospace giant hails Thor as a great success. Manufacturer of Thor, Airbus thinks that the future will bring a revolutionary change in the aircraft manufacturing industry enabling the companies to save time, effort, money, and fuel. Detlev Konigorski, in charge of developing Thor for Airbus, proudly presented his creation:
“This is a test of what’s possible with 3D printing technology. We want to see if we can speed up the development process by using 3D printing not just for individual parts but for an entire system.”
Save for its electrical components, the entire structure of Thor has been made from polyamide.
Thor took off for its maiden flight in November last year. The chief engineer for the inaugural flight, Gunnar Haase is all praises for the latest creation of Airbus.
“[The little plane] flies beautifully, it is very stable.”
Both Airbus and Boeing are using 3D printing to manufacture some parts of A350 and B787 Dreamliner passenger airplanes. An industrial prototyping expert has opined that the metal parts produced for the aircraft can be 30 to 50 percent lighter in weight and produce no manufacturing waste.
ESA, the European space agency is set to launch the Ariane 6 rocket, fitted with quite a few 3D printed parts by 2020. The 3D printing technology reduces the manufacturing costs drastically, so much so that the Ariane 6 has been predicted to cost half as much as Ariane 5.
The latest 3D printers can print various parts up to 15 inches long. The machines can be used to manufacture complex designs. The head of Airbus, Charmeau said that the company is now working on the 3D printing mechanism for an engine assembly. The engine assembly is put together from 270 distinct parts while the 3D printing has brought it down to three parts only.
The ecological impact of the technology is that the lighter aircraft consume less fuel thus, causing lesser air pollution. Ralf Fuecks, head of the think tank of the German Green Party reiterated his belief that:
“[For lessening the carbon emissions in aviation], the decisive issue is radical technical innovation in a relatively short time.”
The aerospace industry has pinned high hopes on the 3D printing technology for a safe and greener air travel experience.