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Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 December 2018

Emirates pioneers new 3D printing for aircraft parts

Airline teams with US and European companies to produce video covers and vent grills using innovative SLS technique

Emirates has used cutting-edge 3D printing technology to manufacture components for its aircraft cabins. Courtesy Emirates
Emirates has used cutting-edge 3D printing technology to manufacture components for its aircraft cabins. Courtesy Emirates

Emirates has used cutting-edge 3D printing technology to manufacture components for its aircraft cabins.

The airline, which placed a US$15.1 billion order for 40 Boeing Dreamliners at the Dubai Airshow this week, said it had reached a significant milestone by using selective laser sintering (SLS), a new 3D printing technique to produce video monitor shrouds.

Emirates worked with 3D Systems, a US-based 3D printing equipment and material manufacturer and services provider, and with UUDS, a European aviation engineering and certification office and services provider based in France, to print the first batch of video monitor shrouds using 3D Systems’ (SLS) technology platform. Emirates worked with UUDS to develop 3D printed aircraft cabin air vent grills that have received EASA certification and have already been installed on aircraft for onboard trials.

The SLS technology uses lasers to bind together powdered plastic into the required shape defined by a 3D model and is different from the fusion deposition modelling (FDM) technique normally used for printing aircraft parts. The material used to print Emirates’ video monitor shrouds is a new thermoplastic developed by 3D Systems - Duraform ProX FR1200 - with excellent flammability resistance properties and surface quality suitable for commercial aerospace business applications, Emirates said.

“Over the last two years Emirates Engineering has been actively exploring 3D printing for aircraft cabin parts as it is a transformational technology that can be used to achieve an increase in efficiency and productivity,” said Ahmed Safa, Emirates' senior vice president- engineering support services.

“We worked with a number of suppliers to develop prototypes of 3D printed cabin parts but ultimately decided on working with 3D Systems and UUDS. The technology we use has the potential to deliver cabin parts with reduced weight without compromising on structural integrity or cosmetic appeal.”

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Video monitor shrouds that are 3D printed using the SLS technique can weigh between 9 and 13 per cent less than those manufactured traditionally or through the FDM technique. This has the potential to lead to significant reductions in fuel emissions and costs.

Additionally with the SLS technique it is possible to print more than one component at a time, reducing production times and cutting wastage of raw materials used for production.

Emirates’ 3D printed video monitor shrouds have undergone a range of structural, durability, flammability and chemical tests and are also in the process of receiving EASA certification for airworthiness for aircraft interior cabin parts, the carrier said. On receiving EASA certification the shrouds will be installed on select aircraft in the Emirates fleet and will be tracked over the following months as part of tests for onboard durability and wear and tear, it added.

Using 3D printing will also deliver a number of other benefits for Emirates including more efficient inventory management for thousands of aircraft cabin interior components, it said. With the airline being able to print components on demand within a smaller timeframe, it will no longer have to hold a large inventory of spare components or have to go through long wait times for replacement components.

Emirates said it will continue to pursue other opportunities for introducing 3D printed components across its operations.