ZAL Tech Center played host to this year’s Red Cabin Aircraft Cabin AM Conference.
I’ve said it before, since working in additive manufacturing I’ve adopted a bit of a habit of playing “spot the additive application” whenever I board a plane. Great for editorial, but quite annoying, I would imagine, for my other half whenever we go on holiday.
The same happened last week as I hopped on a flight to Hamburg for the second Red Cabin Aircraft Cabin Additive Manufacturing conference. As I settled into the brash yellow and blue my seats of my budget aircraft (the glamorous life of the media), I began circling with imaginary red pen all of the areas where AM might find a useful home from the tens of assembled parts I could see in the arm rest mechanism to the unnecessary tray tables that had been bolted shut to restrict use in the rows of emergency exit seats (it’s really almost TOO glamorous).
Two ferry rides later, it was exactly those types of applications that a collective of aerospace specialists and additive experts had gathered at the ZAL Tech Center, south of the River Elbe, to explore. If being privy to two days worth of brain storming sessions with a bunch of 3D printing-literate engineers shows you anything, it’s that those far flung ideas like personalised seats and bionic bathrooms are not a million miles away from reality. Though the suggestion of a real-life RoboCop may be taking things a little too far.
“3D printing will be a game-changer for the MRO industry worldwide.”
Pratt & Whitney is set to introduce a 3D printed aero-engine component into its maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) operations by mid-2020 after a successful collaboration with ST Engineering.
The two companies came together to leverage 3D printing technology to facilitate faster and more flexible repair solutions, with contributions also coming from Pratt & Whitney’s repair specialist Component Aerospace Singapore.
Component Aerospace Singapore provides engine part repair for combustion chambers, fuel systems and manifolds; ST Engineering boasts ‘production-level 3D capabilities’ and experience applying 3D printing in land transport systems; and Pratt & Whitney is a specialist in design and engineering.
The aviation sector today faces many challenges. From geopolitical tensions, to an ongoing US-China trade war, as well as fluctuating oil prices, the sector has seen its fair share of hardships. Still, the aviation sector has found its way of out of the fire.
“The aviation industry has been thoroughly enjoying an extended bull run for the past decade,” KPMG noted in their 2019 Aviation Industry Leaders Report. “Airlines have had access to cheap finance as tough competition pushed down lease rates and debt costs.”
“How long more can this bull run?” KPMG continued. “It has been the question asked for the last number of years. The overall impression heading into 2019 is that while industry fundamentals remain strong – in particular high passenger growth, though cooling, – there are signs that building geopolitical, macroeconomic and industry headwinds will impact the industry over the next 24 months. Varying political tensions and potential trade wars, rising interest rates, volatile oil costs, a strong US dollar, slowing economies, increasing production rates, and MRO and infrastructure capacity constraints are all impacting the aviation sector.”
Marshall Aerospace and Defence Group has turned to 3D printing to create flight-ready parts at a fraction of the cost and time involved in using traditional manufacturing methods.
The Cambridge-based firm’s latest innovation programme is pushing technological boundaries to reduce weight and increase performance on its fleet of military, civil and business aircraft.
It originally looked at metal additive manufacturing as a solution before discovering that the quality of Stratasys polymer technology – supplied by SYS Systems – could deliver the quality of materials it needed to satisfy industry regulations.
The technology will revolutionize manufacturing, but how? United Technologies, GE and Honeywell are taking different approaches.
Like the cotton gin and the modern assembly line, 3D printing is the kind of breakthrough advancement that holds the promise to revolutionize manufacturing. The technology lets companies input designs into a printer the size of a small garden shed and have it spit out fully formed, usable products or parts – often at a savings of time, manpower and money.
This potential isn’t lost on industrial giants like General Electric Co., Honeywell International Inc. and United Technologies Corp.: if you can make a part cheaper, faster or better, that’s worth something. So all three companies are investing in the technology and using it to rethink the way they run their businesses. But they’re doing so in different and interesting ways.
The airline has teamed up with Moog, ST Engineering and Microsoft to 3D print an aircraft component on demand
Air New Zealand recently completed a proof of concept in which it installed a 3D printed component in one of its aircraft in time for a scheduled departure. The process, from purchase of a digital file to installation, was made possible thanks to Air New Zealand’s partners: Singapore-based ST Engineering, supply-chain solutions company Moog and Microsoft.
In the first step in the proof of concept, Air New Zealand ordered a digital aircraft part file from engineering firm ST Engineering. The file in question was for a bumper part to be installed behind the airline’s Business Premier monitors on a Boeing 777-300 to prevent the screen from damaging the seat when pushed.
Additive manufacturing (AM) has significant potential for aerospace, according to industry figures, though challenges remain in certification, the supply of materials, and other areas.
AM—also known as 3D printing—allows manufacturers to produce complex geometries using lightweight materials. These shapes often cannot be made using conventional methods, while the parts can be “printed” from a computer file, even on remote sites.
The technology was the subject of a recent paper by Scott Sevcik, vice president of the Aerospace Business Segment at Stratasys. The AM solutions provider has worked with Diehl Aviation, Marshall Aerospace, and other companies. While the most common form of AM technology—Fused Deposition Modelling (FDM)—has been used in aerospace for almost 30 years for prototyping purposes, the portfolio of materials and uses is rapidly expanding, the paper notes, meeting the stringent requirements needed to make aircraft parts flightworthy and achieving the levels of repeatability demanded to produce parts with consistent performance.
Boeing has pledged to deliver 800 airliners this year, more than ever before, but a main hiccup causing delays is supplier shortfalls.
New technology from startup companies like Digital Alloys could give Boeing more control over its supply chain. Boeing spokesperson Vienna Catalani told Supply Chain Dive the company is not yet certain how and if it will integrate Digital Alloys’ specific technology, but whether used internally at Boeing or in the hands of suppliers, 3D printers can produce metal parts faster and cheaper than traditional methods.
Researchers from RMIT University in Melbourne have been using laser metal-deposition technology to build and repair defence aircraft in a process that’s similar to 3D printing.
The technology feeds metal powder into a laser beam, which when scanned across a surface adds new material in a precise, web-like formation. The metallurgical bond created has mechanical properties similar, or in some cases superior, to those of the original material.
The team believes the technology could be “game-changing” for the aviation industry
“It’s basically a very high-tech welding process where we make or rebuild metal parts layer by layer,” said Professor Milan Brandt who is working on the project.
Boeing is investing heavily in developing its additive manufacturing capabilities ahead of an expected increase in the number of applications for 3D printed commercial aircraft parts.
The airframer already incorporates additive manufactured components into various aircraft cabin products, and expects the technology to provide airlines with a new way of customizing their interiors in the future.
Boeing last month signed a memorandum of understanding with Israeli software company Assembrix, which the manufacturer says will enable it to transmit additive manufacturing design information more securely.