Eviation Aircraft advocates 3D printing for the development of electric aircraft

A rendering of Eviation Aircraft's Alice electric aircraft

Eviation Aircraft has saved several hundreds of thousands of dollars and months of workforce hours with Stratasys 3D printing (3DP) to make the electric aircraft development project possible.

Just as the world begins to collectively accept the progress being made with electric cars, with adoption rates increasing in parallel with the infrastructure required to support them, the next frontier for electric power is well on its way to being overcome—in the air. For such a forward-thinking endeavor, it is little wonder that 3DP is playing its part in the development process.

One of the companies actively working to develop electric and hybrid aircraft is Eviation Aircraft. Led by chief executive officer (CEO) Omer Bar-Yohay, the company is young but comprised of a team of entrepreneurs with a wealth of technology and innovation experience across disciplines such as drone logistics, metal-air energy solutions and air simulation systems. The goal is clear cut, according to the company, namely to pioneer accessible, sustainable air travel that can power the future of regional transit.

The key word there is regional, as this defines the type and size of electric aircraft that is being developed—a small, light aircraft designed to take nine passengers up to 1,000 kilometers at more than 240 knots. The added bonus is the aim to do this ‘all at the price of a train ticket.’ (Someone really should have a word with them about the fact that in the UK, many rail fares already exceed air fares!).

This aside, Eviation’s aims are admirable in reach and intent, as outlined by Bar-Yohay: ‘In the next four years, Eviation aims to make regional air travel a cost-effective and clean option that rivals any existing form of transit today. With people working and commuting across greater distances than ever before, we believe the solution will bring mid-range cities like Seoul and Beijing, or London and Paris, closer together through all-electric air travel.’

With this end-goal in mind, Eviation is a member of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) and General Aviation Manufacturers Association (GAMA) electric aviation committees and demonstrates that it is a key proponent in determining the future of the aviation industry. One of Eviation’s partners in this endeavor is the additive manufacturing (AM) and 3DP company Stratasys, a collaboration that has accelerated Eviation’s product development process considerably, while reducing costs.

The race to develop electric and hybrid-electric commercial aircraft is on, so to gain a competitive edge, Eviation integrated Stratasys’s 3DP solutions throughout its R&D processes. The company took a ‘start from scratch’, holistic approach to the engineering of its electric commuter aircraft based on four pillars:

  • electric by design: radical and holistic re-thinking of the airframe, propeller and motor maximizes energy management and flight efficiency;
  • ultra-light design: a leap forward in light aircraft design, promising to be up to 300 percent more fuel efficient than equally sized aircraft;
  • long-range battery: lithium-aluminum fusion technology delivers an 800-mile range per flight before re-charging is required; and
  • autonomous flight: self-piloting technology enables unmanned flights for increased flexibility and expansion of services.

The entire development process—including aerodynamic testing and the propulsion system—was redesigned to maximize the efficiency of electric flight. Stratasys 3D printing enabled the company to test many of its designs long before it needed to invest in actual certifiable parts, resulting in accelerated processes and more innovative designs, as well as significantly reduced engineering costs. ‘Our ability to create new iterations of designs with 3D printing and see how they perform in real time is helping us reduce critical capital costs, even as we accelerate our rapid prototyping phase,’ explained Bar-Yohay. ‘The kind of highly iterative, in-house manufacturing process that Stratasys 3D printing has refined is crucial to the life of a company in the constantly changing, and highly competitive, transportation space.’

For example, Eviation 3D printed its wing-tip motors in a matter of hours, enabling swifter design and functional evaluation, while waiting for the final motors to be shipped. Another key aspect of Eviation’s design is its ability to reduce interference drag on the exterior of the aircraft by employing smooth, curved surfaces. Eviation was able to create the required strong, geometrically complex, lightweight parts to support these surfaces by 3D printing a composite lay-up tool in ULTEM 1010 material, which was then covered with carbon fiber.

‘All in all, in two years of operation we have saved several hundreds of thousands of dollars with Stratasys 3D printing and I would estimate six months or more of workforce hours, which made this project possible,’ added Bar-Yohay. ‘Today we are using the technology for prototyping test parts and tooling; the ability to produce lightweight parts in complex geometries will also enable us to explore the possibility of 3D printing parts for the final aircraft.’

Eviation is expecting to begin flight testing in late 2018 with commercial availability slated for 2021.

Stratasys 3D printed parts for Eviation Aircraft were displayed for the first time at the Goodwood Festival of Speed (FoS) in the Future Lab, which took place on June 29-July 2, 2017, in Chichester, UK.

About Rachel Park

Rachel is a passionate advocate of additive manufacturing/3D printing technologies and the industry that has sprung up around it. However, as the hype and hyperbole has gathered momentum, her aim is always to offer a reasoned voice in the midst of inflated expectations and to cut through the noise in order to provide a realistic outlook of how things are.