Airbus lets you see plane before it's built

A member of the media trying out Airbus' virtual reality technology at the planemaker's facility in Hamburg yesterday. Customers are now able to take tours of a completed plane before it is even built. The company is also using 3D printing to build a
A member of the media trying out Airbus' virtual reality technology at the planemaker's facility in Hamburg yesterday. Customers are now able to take tours of a completed plane before it is even built. The company is also using 3D printing to build aircraft parts to cut waste and production time.ST PHOTO: LIM YAOHUI

Picking aircraft seats, carpets and other fittings used to be a tedious task for airline executives who had to plough through different sketches and catalogues, and then imagine the final product.

Today, a customer can be taken on a tour of the completed plane before it is even built, thanks to virtual reality and 3D technology.

"Customers are able to see what they will get at the end, right at the beginning," said Mr Michael Lau, programme manager of cabin design at Airbus.

The planemaker offered a glimpse of the cutting-edge technology in use in the industry at its Customer Definition Centre in Hamburg, Germany yesterday - as it prepares to deliver Singapore Airlines' latest A-380 tomorrow.

It set up the centre in 2014 and is planning to nearly double the size of the facility to more than 8,000sq m. Work started in April and will be completed before the end of next year.

The extra space will allow Airbus to provide a similar experience for airlines that have ordered the single-aisle A-320 and A-330 wide-body aircraft.

Apart from virtual reality, Airbus is also ramping up on other technology, including 3D printing of aircraft parts which promises to cut waste and production time, among other benefits.

Such parts - mainly small pieces attached to aircraft seats for example - are already flying on Airbus aircraft, the planemaker said.

As technology advances and production costs decrease "we may indeed imagine that one day most of the structure will be made of 3D-printed parts", a company spokesman said.

Meanwhile in Singapore, SIA Engineering is also pushing for innovation in aerospace maintenance, repair and overhaul services.

The move towards automation, including the 3D printing of aircraft spare parts, is part of a $50 million initiative that was announced last year.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on December 12, 2017, with the headline 'Airbus lets you see plane before it's built'. Print Edition | Subscribe