What's old is new (and better) again thanks to 3D printing techniques under the employ of Airbus. Seen above are two parts. The simpler one was created using conventional manufacturing techniques. And by conventional I mean, of course, soon-to-be obsolete.
OBsolete, and replaced by 3D printing, which Airbus has apparently perfected to the point that it is using 3D-printed parts to help fly the massive A380.
But 3D printing is nothing new, right? Well, yes, if we're talking plastic or resin parts that don't require the kinds of heavy stresses one might associate with, I dunno, keeping hundreds of tons of metals flying through the air. I don't know about you, but on my next flight I'd probably be that guy screaming down the aisle right before takeoff if I somehow learned vital system components were made of resin. They wouldn't be, of course, but bear with me here.
What they would be made of is something like the metal engine hinges seen above. The part would be durable, long-lasting and not prone to snapping off at 35,000 feet—all characteristics that were, until today, not associated with 3D-printed parts.
But that dynamic's been turned on its head by the folks at Airbus. Using an special additive layer manufacturing machine (aka the aforementioned 3D printer), they are able to create "intricate forms out of high-grade metal," reports the MIT Technology Review, which to me and you means "oh by the way, Airbus has actually already installed these 3D-printed parts on their massive Airbus A380 airliners.
And since this is a computer-assisted 3D printing press we're talking about, it would be remiss to not mention that they are stronger, lighter and more superior than anything we humans could create by hand or with our now outdated, traditional manufacturing processes:
The printers use software that works out where the parts need to bear loads and places material just in those areas, halving the weight of the complete part without sacrificing strength. That saves energy, metal, and money. The complex, curving forms that result couldn't be cast in a mold or carved out of a larger block even with the most advanced computer-controlled tools, but they can be printed in a succession of layers tens of micrometers thick.
So the planes essentially fly themselves, and now they build themselves in a way that's stronger and more efficient than any human hand. At least the peanuts are still real. [MIT Technology Review]