To reduce the impact of the growing aviation industry on European citizens, there is a need to reduce emissions in all successive phases of an aircraft lifecycle. This demanding task, established within the Strategic Research and Innovation Agenda (SRIA) of the Advisory Council for Aviation Research and Innovation in Europe (ACARE), can only be achieved by implementing innovative green technologies and corresponding methodologies and concepts.
With the introduction of additively manufactured plastic parts Airbus has already achieved first benefits in spare part production, regarding resource efficiency and cost savings. Airbus predicts a weight reduction of over 1 ton per aircraft in the short term through the introduction of AM. To achieve these ambitious goals and tap even further potential, AM of aluminium and AM specific design-processes and methodologies as well as supply chains and logistics have to be developed.
AM technologies enable great weight saving potential for structural components and significant reduction of material waste during production. Studies of topology optimized and bionic lightweight structures made of titanium alloys show up to 40% weight reduction with production waste smaller than 10% of the initial material. With the introduction of high strength aluminium alloys, even greater weight saving is possible. The weight and waste reduction through the introduction of AM will significantly reduce CO2 and NOx emissions, as claimed by the SRIA.
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Due to the new possibilities of AM and the weight saving potential of bionic design, Airbus identified topology optimized and bionic structures as one key enabler to create competitive air vehicles in the future and reach the goals set in the SRIA. In addition to introducing optimized single components in the near future, Airbus already envisions creating entire airplanes based on concepts of biomimetics, which could only be realized by utilization of Additive Manufacturing on a broad-scale and promise a weight saving of up to 30%. Furthermore, the design freedom of AM can be used to optimize the functionalities of a part. Engine Manufacturers for example are implementing injection nozzles and turbine-blades, based on AM, which are significantly more efficient and durable, reducing emissions during aircraft operation.
Despite all the advantages, some major challenges remain to transferAM technology to a resource and cost-efficient production process, limiting the energy- and resource-efficiency of the aircraft.
To overcome these barriers and increase the applicability of AM for aircrafts, with the goal of reducing the environmental impact of an aircraft along the complete life-cycle, the BionicAircraft Project has the following ambitions: