French aerostructures specialist Stelia Aerospace has produced, through additive manufacturing, a metallic fuselage panel complete with integrated stiffeners.

Stelia says the 1m² (11ft²) “self-reinforced” demonstrator panel was robotically produced through an aluminium wire arc additive manufacturing process, and that it represents a “disruptive design”.

Stiffeners are typically attached to panels with fasteners or through welding. Alternatively, panels with integrated stiffeners can be milled from solid metal, but that process leads to substantial material waste.

Stelia Aerospace 3D Panel

The 3D printing technology “should, in the long term, eliminate the current added stiffeners” and free production from “complex constraints”, Stelia says. It notes that that the new technology could reduce material waste, component weight and “recurring manufacturing costs”.

Chief executive Cédric Gautier suggests the 3D printing process could be employed to manufacture “very large structural parts” in future.

The Toulouse-headquartered aerostructures company produced the demonstrator panel in co-operation with aluminium specialist Constellium, engineering group CT Ingénierie and engineering school Centrale Nantes.

France’s Directorate General for Civil Aviation financed half of the research and technology project, with the balance funded by the partners.