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A380European aircraft manufacturer Airbus says it is exploring the use of three-dimensional printing of individual parts or even larger airframe structures.

Airbus has been testing the technology, also known as additive manufacturing, since the late 1990s.

Its parent company, EADS, is a key partner in the European Space Agency’s AMAZE project to perfect the printing of space-quality metal components.

AMAZE, or Additive Manufacturing Aiming Towards Zero Waste and Efficient Production of High-Tech Metal Products, involves 28 industrial partners. AMAZE

The 3D printing technology offers greater manufacturing flexibility as well as cost- and weight-saving potential. Other aerospace companies, including engine manufacturers General Electric and Rolls-Royce, are also testing it.

Airbus made the announcement on Wednesday as the company and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology signed an agreement to explore the use of digital manufacturing in the aerospace industry.

The company will work with MIT’s Center for Bits and Atoms  to evaluate how the digital material concepts being developed at the institute can potentially be applied to the design and construction of aerospace vehicles.

Metallic digital material.

Metallic digital material.

“The agreement with MIT opens up an interesting collaboration with a cutting-edge research partner,” said Axel Krein, senior vice-president of research and technology at Airbus.Neil Gershenfeld is the director CBA.

“We’re delighted to welcome Airbus as CBA’s newest member, with a focus on aerospace applications of digital fabrication,” he said.

Airbus believes digital material technology could lead to a totally new way of assembling airplanes and may offer substantial benefits, including lighter aircraft structures as well as lower construction and assembly costs.

Images are courtesy of Airbus and ESA.