3D disruption: How about traveling on a printed plane?

Just how far, and large, can 3D printing technology go?

From printable bones and blood vessels, to printable drugs and household robots, 3D printing is developing in leaps and bounds.

Now, the scale of three-dimensional printing could get even bigger.

Forbes reports that over the last two years an Airbus cabin designer, Bastian Schafer, has been working on a concept plane that could be constructed from the ground up -- using an incredibly large 3D printer.

Most 3D printers available today are no larger than your average dining table -- but Schafer aims first to not only print the smaller components of an aircraft, but by 2050, to print the plane as a whole.

Airbus' parent company EADS has researched the process Schafer proposes to use, known as additive layer manufacturing, since it may be cheaper and lighter than traditional methods used in aircraft construction. However, due to the complicated processes involved, the concept printer would need a fair amount of space.

"It would have to be about 80 by 80 meters," Schafer told Forbes. "This could be feasible."

Before the designer's dream can come to fruition, EADS will need to pass stringent aircraft regulations before being permitted to print aircraft components. The first 3D-printed parts to be used on its commercial craft will be ready by the end of 2012, when Airbus will begin using 3D-printed components to update its cabin brackets.

Some of the company's military craft are already using 3D printables. A new jet, the Eurofighter Typhoon, contains parts of an air-conditioning unit made by 3D printing.

Along with regulations, finding the right materials is proving a challenge. The concept plane that Airbus has designed for the printing method contains materials that are currently not commercially available -- including transparent aluminium for the fuselage, specific biopolymers and other materials that must be strengthened through carbon nanotubes to become fully functional.

 

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