Airbus Helicopters is currently about to develop an extension for camera mounts to be used with observation cameras on their helicopters. These have possible applications with the police or army for helping them to follow movements on the ground. To achieve the optimum design, the X400 3D printer from German RepRap is used to create different possible prototypes for testing. This saves both development costs as well as the time required for the production process.
Retrofitting a camera on the front of a helicopter requires the use of additional support elements on the cockpit frame. According to the mounting space available and the various environmental conditions, the contour is created in CAD for a cut part (Fig. 1).
After the computer animations, the functionality is tested on a prototype produced with the X400 3D printer. The camera frames are created quickly and inexpensively. In this way functional prototypes are produced that allow their interaction with other components to be tested easily. “Different tests are required in order to examine functionality and maintainability. The later suitability of the installation and the manufacturing process also have to be examined,” explains Frank Singer, manager of Vehicle System Installation Germany at Airbus Helicopters Deutschland GmbH.
With this installation, the component depends on several tolerances that are not shown in the CAD. An estimation of the suitability the CAD design for the actual helicopter must be carried out with a prototype (first fit check). The installation trial is carried out with a prototype produced on the X400 3D printer from German RepRap. This allows any necessary adaptions to be carried out simply and directly on site. The CAD data is then adjusted according to the prototype that is successfully fitted. The fast and cost-efficient installation trial enables the “first time right” series component to be delivered to the helicopter.
|Fig. 2: Installation trial|
“Using a conventional process would require cutting. For example, a part would be cut from aluminum – a far less attractive process in terms of the cost and time required”, explains Frank Singer, manager of Vehicle System Installation Germany at Airbus Helicopters Deutschland GmbH.
|3D printing||Cut part (external production)|
|Manufacturing time||approx. 6 hours||approx. 2-3 days (delivery time)|
|Manufacturing costs||approx. 50€||approx. 120€|
As the figures above clearly show, FDM technology offers a large number of benefits compared to the conventional production method. It allows individual parts to be manufactured with improved functionality – something that would be impossible with the conventional process or only possible with great difficulty, particularly in terms of costs.
Florian Bautz, CEO of German RepRap GmbH, sums up: “The application at Airbus Helicopters Deutschland GmbH very clearly shows the benefits of manufacturing prototypes with our German RepRap 3D printer. Besides the obligatory time and cost savings, the internal prototype manufacturing using the FDM procedure also offers greater freedom in the design process.”