Industrial 3D Printing Accelerates Electric Aircraft Time-to-Market
Ian Wright posted on July 06, 2017 | 6183 views
The Eviation electric aircraft is designed to take nine passengers up to 1,000km at more than 240kts for the same price as a train ticket. (Image courtesy of Eviation.)
The Eviation electric aircraft is designed to take nine passengers up to 1,000km at more than 240kts for the same price as a train ticket. (Image courtesy of Eviation.)
There’s something heartening about seeing new technologies come together, like automation and big data analytics or building information modeling (BIM) and cloud computing—perhaps because it feels like we’re getting a glimpse of the future.

Even bringing together an industrial robot and AI for an art project conjures up images of what the coming smart factories might look like.

The latest example of this synthesis comes from electric airplane manufacturer Eviation Aircraft and 3D printing giant Stratasys. Eviation has been using Stratasys technology to develop an all-electric commuter plane, reportedly saving hundreds of thousands of dollars and months of workforce hours by leveraging additive manufacturing.

The aerospace industry has had an interest in developing electric aircraft for some time, but there are significant engineering challenges involved.

Eviation took a “start from scratch,” holistic approach to the engineering of its electric commuter aircraft. The entire development process, including aerodynamic testing and the propulsion system, was redesigned to maximize the efficiency of electric flight.

Stratasys 3D printing enabled the company to test many of its designs long before it needed to invest in actual certifiable parts, resulting in accelerated processes, innovative designs, and reduced engineering costs.

“Our ability to create new iterations of designs with 3D printing and see how they perform in real-time is helping us reduce critical capital costs, even as we accelerate our rapid prototyping phase,” said Eviation founder and CEO Omer Bar-Yohay. “The kind of highly iterative, in-house manufacturing process that Stratasys 3D printing has refined is crucial to the life of a company in the constantly changing, and highly competitive, transportation space.”

Eviation 3D printed its wing-tip motors in a matter of hours, enabling swifter design and functional evaluation while waiting for the final motors to be shipped. The company’s design also reduces interference drag on the exterior of the aircraft by employing smooth, curved surfaces. Eviation create strong, geometrically complex, lightweight parts to support these surfaces by 3D printing a composite lay-up tool in ULTEM 1010 material, which was then covered with carbon fiber.  

A 3D-printed version of the wing tip motor (left) was produced in 20 hours on the Stratsys Fortus 450mc Production 3D Printer in FDM ABS material until the final motor (right) was delivered. (Image courtesy of Eviation.)
A 3D-printed version of the wing tip motor (left) was produced in 20 hours on the Stratsys Fortus 450mc Production 3D Printer in FDM ABS material until the final motor (right) was delivered. (Image courtesy of Eviation.)
“All in all, in two years of operation we have saved several hundreds of thousands of dollars with Stratasys 3D printing and I would estimate six months or more of workforce hours, which made this project possible,” added Bar-Yohay. “Today we are using the technology for prototyping test parts and tooling; the ability to produce lightweight parts in complex geometries will also enable us to explore the possibility of 3D printing parts for the final aircraft.”

Eviation is expecting to begin flight testing in late 2018 with commercial availability slated for 2021.

For more information, visit the Eviation and Stratasys websites.

Recommended For You