English engineers have produced what is believed to be the world’s first printed plane. I’m not talking a nice artsy lithograph of the Wright Bros. first flight. This is a complete, flyable aircraft spit out of a 3D printer.
The SULSA (Southampton University Laser Sintered Aircraft) is an unmanned air vehicle that emerged, layer by layer, from a nylon laser sintering machine that can fabricate plastic or metal objects. In the case of the SULSA, the wings, access hatches, and the rest of the structure of the plane were all printed.
As if that weren’t awesome enough, the entire thing snaps together in minutes, no tools or fasteners required. The electric plane has a wingspan of just under 7 feet and a top speed of 100 mph.
Jim Scanlon, one of the project leads at the University of Southhampton, explains in a statement that the technology allows for products to go from conception to reality much quicker and more cheaply.
“The flexibility of the laser-sintering process allows the design team to revisit historical techniques and ideas that would have been prohibitively expensive using conventional manufacturing,” Scanlon says. “One of these ideas involves the use of a Geodetic structure… This form of structure is very stiff and lightweight, but very complex. If it was manufactured conventionally it would require a large number of individually tailored parts that would have to be bonded or fastened at great expense.”
So apparently when it comes to 3D printing, the sky is no longer the limit. Let’s just make sure someone double-checks the toner levels before we start printing the next international space station.