Friday, August 17, 2012

Organic Airframes...

Airbus is working on incorporating lessons learned from the skeletons of bird into airframe design.  The concept at right is one such effort.  Manufacturing methods currently in use couldn't build such an airframe with any reasonable amount of money – but new techniques, based on 3D printing, could do so. 

This technology (3D printing) is developing very fast, with many different materials and on many different scales.  I've blogged before about large-scale printers using concrete as their media being used to construct buildings and bridges.  The Airbus concept would use composite materials (fiberglass, possibly with carbon fibers).  The most common 3D printers today work in plastic on relatively small scales (a cubic foot or less), but I've read about 3D printers using various metals (both molten and sintered powders), composites, engineered wood products, and glass. 

It can't be too long now before these printers are widely used in manufacturing – and that's going to change a lot of our long-held perceptions about buying things.  Here's one example: tools like screwdrivers, pliers, and hammers could be made to fit your hand, and yet cost no more than they do today.  Another: if you want a lamp for your den, you could order one in the exact size and style you want – and the manufacturer will build it to your specification for the same cost as a mass-manufactured model.  I'm sure there are many more uses I can't even imagine!

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