This module is being developed to give members of the crew a safer platform to stand on when they either need to tackle operational issues on the outside of the helicopter, or when using a rescue system.
The company has harnessed the German RepRap x400, which was installed in 2016 to produce prototypes and runs around the clock. Usage of the machine is on an upward curve too, with Airbus saying the machine has become ‘firstly established in our development process.’ In 2017, almost 50 print jobs were carried out, while during the first half of this year, that number was surpassed.
One of the most recent is the step module: “It happens again and again that a crew member of a helicopter stands outside on the runners during the flight due to operational issues. Under certain circumstances, also during operation of the rescue winch,” explained Frank Singer, Head of Department Vehicle System Installation at Airbus Helicopters in Germany. “The relatively small footprint on the runners could be optimised using a step.”
The step measures nearly three metres in length, and will be subdivided into three printable parts, and be compounded with plug-in connectors. These plug-in connectors can be used 50 times with no visible wear and requires no glue, screw connection or other tools, and are printed in PLA on the material extrusion platform.
“In the past, we have had to divide larger prototypes into separate parts because of the print bed size (390 x 400 x 320 mm). These were often glued together,” said Singer. “However, this was always associated with further processing steps, which we can now save, if the application allows it. The quickly printed parts require no further processing steps or curing time of the adhesive anymore. With this method, we have found an ingenious application for this design, to have a large component quickly and cost-effectively available with the print bed size that is available.”
Airbus Helicopters use the x400 system to prototype all design parts for its ‘FIT Check’ where the installability and fitting are examined, before they are cleared for manufacture to begin.