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Protolabs’ combined manufacturing solution helps the leading aircraft innovator to develop batteries

How Airbus makes high-voltage progress in electric aviation

The biggest aircraft company in the world stays competitive through constant innovation. As the aviation industry continuously looks toward electric and autonomous vehicles, progress largely hinges on a crucial component: batteries.

For Airbus, prototyping high-performance batteries for drones and other aircraft requires sourcing a diverse range of custom parts. They also need flexible manufacturing services–CNC machined parts one day and 3D printed prototypes the next. Getting these parts quickly and easily is essential to their development process. 

Thomas le Doux, a mechanical engineer who builds aerospace batteries for Airbus, chose to work with Protolabs to solve the unique challenges of sourcing parts. 

At A Glance

zermattview challenge Challenge

To produce high-performance batteries containing a myriad of components at speed.

zermattview solutionSolution

Protolabs in-house factories for speed of manufacturing, Protolabs Network for economies of scale for higher-volume production.

zermattview outcomeOutcome

Accelerated development of electric aircraft projects.

CNC Machining for Airbus parts
CNC Machining at Protolabs

How Protolabs helped

As a long-time customer of Protolabs, Le Doux believes that getting manufacturing quotes instantly and parts in hand quickly has expedited battery development projects for Airbus. “We need to get parts fast. Sometimes we need parts the next day, so the digital platform really saves us time,” he says.

“Protolabs has a really nice interface that’s easy for uploading different parts and seeing prices on the screen, and we can get them really fast”.

More manufacturing capabilities

When a particular battery required CNC machined parts with tighter than average tolerances–a familiar challenge in aviation engineering – Protolabs introduced Airbus to its global network. Thanks to its partnerships with highly skilled manufacturers around the world with extensive capabilities, Protolabs Network rose to the challenge of producing these parts.

Higher volumes as projects take off

In another instance, Airbus worked with Protolabs in the early prototyping stage, and later harnessed the network’s ability to manufacture larger volumes of those parts at competitive prices. “Even though we do a lot of prototyping, sometimes we need more than just a few parts.” Collaboration between the factory and network account managers made for a smooth manufacturing process. “We had a lot of support”.

As batteries are built from a complex combination of parts with many different characteristics, “the choice of materials is really important.” The engineering team needs to consider mechanical behaviour, weight, electrical isolation and conductivity, thermal insulation or conductivity, and much more. Protolabs’ ability to source countless materials on request made this easier.

Working with the combination of Protolabs and its global network sped up development for Le Doux and his team. “We don’t have to spend time sourcing parts from different manufacturers, and we can get different services like CNC machining, 3D printing and injection moulding from one place”. In the end, “We won time. We saved time on prototyping so we could move forward faster”.

Airbus HQ