What Does the Future of Flight Look Like?

Leaders in the aviation industry are making big strides in making aircrafts lighter and more fuel-efficient: a win-win not just for the airlines, but the environment as well.

In the waning weeks of 2015, we worked with Airbus, AutoDesk, and the mad scientists at The Living to showcase their progress on a new initiative that could change the way we think about aircraft design in the future.

Their big ambition: use new technology to lighten today’s aircraft and allow the industry to finally address the important issue of climate change. Their solution: use 3D printing and generative design to manufacture replacement parts for the A330 that are both lighter and stronger than the existing components.

To help them unveil this amazing process, we whipped up a visual cavalcade that combined actual manufacturing data with other visual treats to illustrate the relationship between their cutting-edge process and the industry they’re reshaping for all our benefit.

How exactly does this generative design work? As the video shows, the solution is part biology, part technology. Inspired by bone structure and slime mold, The Living used parametric programming skills to streamline the structure of the new component. Beginning with a wide range of structural layouts, their algorithms analyzed the efficiency of each, combining the strengths of different options and eliminating redundancies until their formulas balanced stiffness, impact resistance, and weight. The result is a finely-tuned web of struts that lie exactly where they’re needed most. From there, the data could be fed right into an industrial 3D printer where a laser sintered the parts out of a specially-formulated metal alloy dust.

Airbus has already used this sophisticated approach to redesign the bulky partition wall that separates the commercial cabin from the crew’s station. They even exceeded expectations, cutting the partition’s weight in half by a substantial 77 pounds. With A330s weighing in at over 400,000 pounds, this kind of weight decrease could reduce metric tons of CO2 emissions by the hundreds of thousands. So, yes, we like to think we’re doing our part to save the planet, one video at a time.