A new collaboration between leading aircraft manufacturer Airbus and 3D design and engineering software leader Autodesk showcases the future of aerospace design and manufacturing with an innovative 3D printed airplane cabin component.

Considered the world’s largest 3D printed airplane cabin component, the ‘bionic partition’ was created with custom algorithms that generated a design mimicking cellular structure and bone growth, and was then produced using additive manufacturing techniques. This pioneering design and manufacture process renders the structure stronger and more lightweight than traditional processes.

The partition functions as a dividing wall between the seating area and the galley of a plane and holds the jumpseat for the cabin attendants. Specific cut-outs and weight limits were some of the design and structural requirements, making the generative design approach particularly appropriate for this application.

Airplane design aims to reduce the weight of components to lower the pressure on fuel use. Designed in a structurally-strong, but lightweight micro-lattice shape, Airbus’ new bionic partition is 45 per cent (30kg) 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 CO2 emissions per year, the equivalent of taking about 96,000 passenger cars off the road for one year.

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 including the ability to considerably stretch without breaking.

Capitalising on the cloud to compute very large sets of design alternatives that meet specific goals and constraints, generative design can explore new solutions, while improving design quality and performance. Since the designs are nearly impossible to manufacture using traditional methods, additive manufacturing techniques such as 3D printing are critical to the success of generative design.

Jeff Kowalski, chief technology officer of Autodesk, explains that generative design, additive manufacturing and the development of new materials are already transforming the shape of manufacturing with innovative companies such as Airbus showing the extent of new possibilities.

According to Peter Sander, VP - emerging technologies and concepts at Airbus, the collaboration with Autodesk, APWorks and Concept Laser has proved very successful with the aircraft manufacturer always looking to push the boundaries of new technologies and explore how they can best innovate. Autodesk brings generative design technology and a real understanding of additive manufacturing, which is crucial to turning great concepts into real products.

He adds that these technologies will ultimately revolutionise the way aircrafts are designed and built, 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 specialises in applying generative design and new technologies across a wide range of fields and applications.