TOULOUSE, France—Engineers at Stelia Aerospace, an Airbus subsidiary that specializes in aerostructures and aircraft seating, have created the world’s first self-reinforced fuselage panel. They used additive manufacturing to integrate stiffening structures that provide the reinforcement.

The engineers used wire arc additive manufacturing to deposit stiffening aluminum wire to the inner surface of the 1-square-meter panel. Currently, the web-like stiffening structures inside fuselages are screwed or welded into place by hand.

“This new technique could present an opportunity to rethink and redesign fuselages, removed from the constraints of having to attach the reinforcing lattices at a later stage,” says Cedric Gautier, CEO of Stelia Aerospace. “With this demonstrator, [we aim] to provide [our] customers with innovative designs on very large structural parts derived from new calculation methods.”

In addition to Airbus, Stelia’s customers include Boeing, Bombardier, Embraer and Northrop Grumman.

The new manufacturing process is referred to by Stelia as DEFACTO (DEveloppement de la Fabrication Additive pour Composant TOpologique). The three-year project was co-funded by the French Directorate General for Civil Aviation.

“The [R&D effort] is part of a broader investigation into additive manufacturing,” says Gautier. “[We hope it] will result in new designs, weight gains, better integration of functions, lower ecological impact through the use of less materials, and reduced manufacturing costs.”