Airbus Helicopters is reducing the high development costs of function models through the use of 3D printers. The windshield wipers of the helicopters are one example. “These windshield wipers require many tests with regard to their functionality and serviceability, as well as their ease of installation and the future manufacturing process,” said Frank Singer, manager of engineering at Airbus Helicopters Deutschland GmbH.
After the computer animations, functionality was tested using a prototype made from a 3D printer. Gears, levers and shafts were manufactured quickly and economically with the 3D printer. Threads, bearings and sleeves were later incorporated into the 3D model. This process enabled the creation of functional prototypes for which the interaction with other components was easier to test.
Airbus used an X400 3D printer from German RepRap to produce the 3D objects. According to Frank Singer, the benefits of 3D printing essentially lie in the lower costs compared to conventional manufacturing methods such as CNC milling, and in the ability to provide the customer with a functional model at an early stage in development and not just a CAD drawing.