To date 3D printing has always been a relatively expensive way to make a part. The investment cost in a new technology that is slow to make parts can make it cost prohibitive to use and many medium to high volume manufacturing operations. In the case of making aircraft when any one model may only have a production rate of around 30 complete planes a month, amortisation of tooling investment on the volume becomes a major cost factor.
Airbus is looking to to utilise 3D printing to reduce the investment cost required for some low volume parts. The removal of unique tooling for each part means the investment can be redirected to equipment for new 3D printing processes.
Airbus has also been able to optimise part design based on using 3D printing processes where they can combine a sub-assembly into a single 3D printed part. This creates opportunities to reduce component count, cost and mass.
Other opportunities in the supply chain have also been identified where a customer needs a replacement part for an older model plane. The supplier and tooling no longer exist for the part but with some reverse engineering and redesign Airbus can make a 3D printed service part.
This video from Airbus explains further.