The Autodesk University 2015 event in Las Vegas was never going to be short of news or use of the word ‘innovation’ but one of the biggest and perhaps most innovative news stories of the event so far has been Autodesk’s collaboration with Airbus on the world’s largest 3D printed aeroplane cabin component.
Created with custom algorithms and the power of generative design, the “bionic partition” is a reimagined and optimised version of the dividing wall between the seating area and plane galley that holds the jumpseat for attendants.
During today’s media event, the idea of generative design was defined as “designs beyond typical engineering rules of thumb” that mimic cellular structure and bone growth. Using the cloud, generative design can compute large sets of design alternatives that meet specific goals and constraints and improve design quality and performance.
“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,” said Jeff Kowalski, chief technology officer of Autodesk. “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 resulting partition design is almost impossible to manufacture using traditional methods so Airbus used a combination of additive manufacturing and advanced materials to create a structure made up of both macro and micro geometries. The team used both the Concept Laser M2 machine and EOS M400 to 3D print 122 parts in Scalmalloy, a second-generation aluminium-magnesium-scandium alloy created by APWorks, and 40 parts in titanium. The partition was assembled for the very first time at Autodesk University and weights a massive 45% less than current Airbus A320 partition designs. 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.
The bionic partition project is a joint collaboration between Autodesk, Airbus, APWorks and The Living, an Autodesk studio which specialises in applying generative design and new technologies. The first phase of testing of the partition has been successfully completed. Further testing will be conducted next year, including a test flight and Autodesk believes we could see the component on the market by 2018 with similar components to follow in the early 2020s.
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