Jetliner manufacturer Airbus is increasing its commitment to using 3D printing technology. The company recently released a report stating it could save 10 kilograms by using direct metal laser sintering to print a particular bracket, which could save money during the operational cycle of an aircraft.

Now it is taking the next step by signing a cooperation agreement with China's North Western Polytechnical University (NPU) to explore ways to further apply 3D printing technology in the commercial aviation sector.

NPU will manufacture test specimens of titanium alloy parts for Airbus using its Laser Solid Forming technology. The specimens will be manufactured according to Airbus specifications and will be measured and assessed by Airbus. 

"This initiative is further evidence of Airbus' continuing search for capturing the best ideas in the world and turning them into industrially effective technologies to ensure the sustainable development of aviation," Airbus China COO Rafael Gonzalez-Ripoll said.

Airbus is exploring the use of 3D printing technology to manufacture individual parts or even larger airframe structures for the company's line of aircraft. It is also looking at spare part solutions with this technology, which is ideal for producing cost-effective, out-of-production aircraft spare parts on demand.

"We are pleased to have been selected by Airbus, the world's leading aircraft manufacturer, as a partner to carry out the pilot project to explore ways of applying 3D printing technology in commercial aviation," NPU President Weng Zhiqian said. "This project is a test for our 3D research capability and we are confident we will deliver satisfactory results on quality and on time that will establish a solid foundation for further cooperation in this field."

Companies like BAE Systems and Boeing are already using 3D printing technology and aircraft engine manufacturer Rolls Royce is considering it as well.

Located in the Shaanxi Province capital city of Xi'an, NPU is a multi-disciplinary university with programs in aeronautics, astronautics and marine technology as well as management, humanities, economics and law.