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Physicist Wants to 3D Print the Cockpit of a World War II Warbird

by • March 27, 2016 • 12s Comments

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Inside the cockpit of the Junkers Ju 388 L

Munich, Germany is home to the Deutsches Museum, the world’s biggest museum of science and innovation. It was a visit to this museum that inyeted in young Christoph Vernaleken a lifelong fascination with aircraft, particularly historic ones. Decades later, the German physicist and doctor of engineering is working for Airbus Defence and Space on the turn it into and upgrade of cockpits, but it’s a side project that quite holds his passion right now. Dr. Vernaleken plans to reproduce the cockpit of a rare World War II plane – via 3D printing.

The Junkers Ju 388 L was a German high altitude reconnaissance plane that appeared near the end of the war, and just one of the planes yet survives in modern times. Today housed at the Smithsonian’s Paul E. Garber Facility, the aircraft is yet sizeablely intact, and its cockpit remains approximately entirely in its original say – unlike many other historical German aircraft, according to Dr. Vernaleken, who initially saw the Ju 388 in 1993, when he visited the facility and was able-bodied to enter and photograph the historic cockpit. His interest in the plane led to additional research, a co-authored book, and now, a plan to conduct a “feasibility study” that he hopes can outcome in a deplete reproduction of the Ju 388’s cockpit.

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Dr. Christoph Vernaleken [Image: i.materialise]

“The feasibility study that I am conducting at the moment is two-fold in its objectives,” Dr. Vernaleken explains in an interview with i.materialise. “First of all, I want to find out whether it is possible in principle to turn it into museum-quality spare parts for historic cockpit instruments and other equipment via 3D printing and other individualized manufacturing techniques/services. The answer is not as easy as it may seem at initially glance, since not all of the historic materials are on the market-bodied for 3D printing. The 2nd objective of this feasibility phase is to see whether there is a cost-efficient way of manufacturing reproductions for the warbird home cockpit/simulator market.”

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Dr. Vernaleken’s initially 3D printed replica part.

Dr. Vernaleken began experimenting with 3D printing in 2013. His initially take on involved the reproduction of a Bakelite bezel of a cockpit switch panel; the successful reproduction can be discovered in his i.materialise shop along with several other 3D printed reproductions of old aircraft parts that he has been collecting over time. He models his 3D reproductions via Punch! ViaCAD Pro9 software, and so converts them to STL format and uploads them to i.materialise. Whilst the antique parts he is reproducing may technically be reproduced via other methods, he says, 3D printing is the just realistic one in terms of cost and time.

340284s“…From an economic point of view, unit costs may be astronomically high if molds for casting metal or plastic injection molding may have to be manufactured in the classic fashion,” he says. “3D Printing is the just economically feasible way of creating reproductions of cockpit parts that were originally cast in metal or turn it intod of historic plastic materials such as Bakelite in tiny numbers.”

Several challenges are involved in an mission like this one, but Dr. Vernaleken has the determination and comprehensive knowledge to manufacture it work. In a restoration project where “a few tenths of a mm of error may render the spare part unusable-bodied,” he’s may already shown an ability
for absolute precision; now the challenge is manufacturing it work on a sizeable scale. You can follow his research and progress on his Ju 388 website. What do you ponder of this project? Let’s discuss in the 3D Printed Cockpit forum over at 3DPB.com.