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.
The 3D printable file was securely sent to an approved 3D printer operated by Moog in Los Angeles, where it was manufactured and installed within hours of the Air New Zealand Boeing 777-300 plane’s scheduled take-off. The entire workflow was carefully monitored and logged by Moog’s VeriPart digital supply chain system, which is itself is powered by Microsoft Azure Cloud technology.
The success of the proof of concept demonstrates how 3D printing can be efficiently integrated into commercial airline production and how it can offer benefits, including drastically faster lead times for non-critical components and reduced downtimes for aircraft.
“Being able to 3D print certain components on the go would be transformative and drive significant efficiencies and sustainability benefits,” commented Carrie Hurihanganui, Air New Zealand Chief Ground Operations Officer. “Rather than having the cost associated with purchasing, shipping and storing physical parts and potentially having to fly an aircraft with an unavailable seat, this system would allow us to print a part when and where we need it in hours.”
Throughout the experiment, Moog’s VeriPart software provided data and process assurance as well as ensured performance integrity for the 3D printed parts. The blockchain platform effectively enables engineering companies such as ST Engineering to share their intellectual property in a controlled, secure way, so that the customer (in this case, the airline) is only able to print the number of parts it orders on demand. Once 3D printed, the part is also securely authenticated by VeriPart and can be traced, adding configuration control for the life of the aircraft.
Overall, the Air New Zealand proof of concept shows that the adoption of 3D printing for aircraft parts is viable and offers advantages to the aircraft maintenance industry, especially when distributed networks are involved.
Last summer, the airline also announced a partnership with New Zealand-based AM company Zenith Tecnica aimed at investigating the use of electron beam melting (EBM) for manufacturing aircraft parts and tools.