Airbus a trusted name in the aviation industry unveiled its first 3D printed unmanned aerial vehicle (UAV) - Thor, which is about 4 meters long and has a wingspan of about 4 meters. Thor has successfully completed its test flight in late 2015. Airbus adopted the 3D printing technology at an early stage and seems to be flying in the right direction; Airbus also plans to adopt 3D printing for almost half of all airplane parts.
Peter Sander, Airbus’ head of emerging technologies & concepts, revealed, the Thor has been under development for some time. And though a great name, Thor is simply an acronym for Test of High-tech Objectives in Reality. “Thor is a test platform for high risk [aerodynamic] investigations,” Sander said. “We [will] prove the concept – [establish] if it works, or not.” - This has excited the 3D printing community which is also very impressed by Thor.
This 3D printed UAV can be designed and built in just below 4 weeks, where as earlier it took around months to complete, which will be cost effective and time saving. Furthermore the design can be altered and be optimized at record speeds. For an aircraft which is 4 meters in length and weighs about 25 kgs its amazing that it cane be printed in 4 weeks. “It has low lead times for fast track developments,” Sander said.
This UAV is built using 50 individual 3D printed parts, had only 2 engines and controls rely on non-3D printing production. Airbus also said that the 3D printed parts are excellent weight-saving solution. Weight is the most critical aspect while building an aircraft, this is where 3D printing proves to be useful and a major cost saving tool. We will have to wait and see how Thor fairs in the future tests, its already has successfully completed its first test flight in November 2015, has another 18 test to complete in 2016.
Thor is not the only 3D printed innovation used by Airbus, it plans to test a 3D printed polyamide-alumide wing sections in wind tunnels which will reduce lead-time by 90% and costs by 75%.