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Artistic impression of the new bionic partition in an Airbus A320.

Autodesk and Airbus show the future of aerospace design and manufacturing in pioneering generatively designed 3D printed partition

Airbus, the leading aircraft manufacturer, has collaborated with 3D design and engineering software leader Autodesk to create the world's largest 3D printed airplane cabin component. Dubbed as the 'bionic partition,' the component was created with custom algorithms that generated a design that mimics cellular structure and bone growth, and then produced using additive manufacturing techniques.

According to Autodesk senior executives, the cabin's pioneering design and manufacture process renders the structure stronger and more light-weight than would be possible using traditional processes. The partition is a dividing wall between the seating area and the galley of a plane and holds the jump seat for the cabin attendants. As with many aircraft components, the partition has incredible design and structural requirements, including specific cutouts and weight limits, making the generative design approach particularly appropriate.

In air travel, reducing weight means reducing fuel use. Designed in a structurally-strong, but lightweight micro-lattice shape, Airbus' new bionic partition is 45 per cent (30 kg) lighter than current designs. When applied to the entire cabin and to the current backlog of A320 planes, Airbus estimates that the new design approach can save up to 465,000 metric tons of C02 emissions per year, the equivalent of taking about 96,000 passenger cars off the road for one year.

Jeff Kowalski, Chief Technology Officer, Autodesk, said, “Generative design, additive manufacturing and the development of new materials are already transforming the shape of manufacturing and innovative companies like Airbus are showing what is possible. This is not just an interesting hypothetical experiment – this is a fully functioning component we can expect to see being deployed in aircraft in the very near future. We're looking forward to further collaboration with Airbus on new components and designs for current and future aircraft.”

The new bionic partition uses Scalmalloy®, a second-generation aluminium-magnesium-scandium alloy created by APWorks, an Airbus subsidiary focused on additive manufacturing and advanced materials. Scalmalloy® is specifically designed for use in 3D printing and offers outstanding mechanical properties, meaning that it will stretch more before breaking. This is the first time it has been used on a large scale inside an aircraft component.

The ability to harness infinite numbers of central processing units (CPUs) through cloud computing have made possible incredible advances in design and engineering. Generative design capitalizes on the cloud to compute very large sets of design alternatives – hundreds to thousands – that meet specific goals and constraints. Generative design can explore new solutions that even experienced designers might not have considered, while improving design quality and performance. Because the designs created are nearly impossible to manufacture using traditional methods, additive manufacturing techniques like 3D printing are critical to generative design's success.

“At Airbus we are always looking to push the boundaries of new technologies and explore how we can best innovate,” said Peter Sander, VP for Emerging Technologies & Concepts, Airbus. “The collaboration with Autodesk, APWorks and Concept Laser has proved very successful. Autodesk brings generative design technology and a real understanding of additive manufacturing, which is crucial to turning great concepts into real products. These technologies will ultimately revolutionize the way we design and build aircraft, enabling improvements in fuel efficiency, passenger comfort and a drastic reduction in the environmental footprint of air transport overall.”

The first phase of testing of the partition has been successfully completed. Further testing will be conducted next year, including a test flight. The bionic partition project is a joint collaboration between Autodesk, Airbus, APWorks and The Living, an Autodesk studio which specializes in applying generative design and new technologies across a wide range of fields and applications.

Press release issued by Autodesk, Inc. on December 16, 2015

 

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Autodesk, Inc. Computer-aided Design
Airbus S.A.S. Airframer

 

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