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Airbus drone is made almost entirely from 3D-printed parts

Thor shows that 3D printing leads to super-light, easy-to-make aircraft.
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Airbus isn't content with 3D printing motorcycles -- it's crafting aircraft, too. The aviation giant used the recent Berlin Air Show to introduce Thor, a drone built almost exclusively from 3D-printed parts. Everything that isn't electrical is built from polyamide, whether it's the propellers or the landing gear. The result is a robotic aircraft that's both quick to make (there are no tools involved) and extremely light -- the entire 13-foot-long vehicle weighs a modest 46 pounds.

It exists largely thanks to ever-larger 3D printers. Airbus can craft pieces up to 15 inches long, and that greatly simplifies the construction of a given part. It tells the AFP that a 270-part engine injection assembly only requires three parts with the newer manufacturing technique.

Thor is a technology demonstrator rather than a practical product, but it's a good sign of where Airbus plans to go in the future. A move to 3D printing for entire aircraft could help the environment by reducing fuel costs and eliminating the waste that often comes with conventional manufacturing. It should lower overall manufacturing costs, too, and not just for aircraft. Airbus is already expected to dramatically lower the cost of the 2020-era Ariane 6 rocket through a heavy reliance on 3D-printed components, and that's only likely to get better when the company can craft complete, full-size vehicles using its cutting-edge method.

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