British Airways today announced it is interested in using 3D printing technologies to manufacture aircraft parts. The concept being explored by the British airline will involve installing 3D printers at airports around the globe for easy and on-demand spare part production. British Airways will begin trialling 3D printing as part of its ongoing initiative to achieve net zero carbon emissions by 2050.
As part of its exploration of 3D printing for aircraft components, British Airways’ tech experts have identified ten parts which could benefit most from 3D printing. They include cutlery, amenity kit products such as combs or toothbrushes, tray tables, aircraft windows, inflight entertainment screens, seats, baggage containers, circuit boards for electrical components, flight deck switches and aircraft shells.
The ability to 3D print such items on an on-demand basis and on location at airports would offer a number of benefits, says BA. For one, the ability to produce and deliver spare parts on-demand could lead to fewer or reduced flight delays. For another, on-site 3D printing would simplify logistics and reduce emissions related to transporting components.
Like many airlines, BA is first interested in leveraging 3D printing for the production of non-critical cabin parts, such as tray tables and entertainment systems. The parts must meet a certain safety standard, of course, but are not as safety-critical as other types of components, making them ideal for rapid, on-demand production.
“We work with start-ups and innovation partners from around the world to explore and implement the very latest technologies, from artificial intelligence to speed up turnaround times to biometrics, helping us to deliver a seamless airport experience for customers,” said Ricardo Vidal, Head of Innovation at British Airways. “3D printing is yet another advancement that will keep us at the forefront of airline innovation.”
Another important aspect of the airline’s exploration of 3D printing is based on the fact that 3D printers can produce more lightweight parts. Because fuel consumption is related to the weight of a flight, minimizing the weight of flight components—without sacrificing strength or integrity—can lead to lower emissions. According to BA, each kilogram of weight removed from a flight saves up to 25 tons of CO2 emissions throughout the life or an aircraft.
As part of its effort to look forward—and as part of its centenary celebration—British Airways is also looking into other new technologies that could influence or disrupt airline travel in the future. These technologies include biological scanners for monitoring travellers’ physiological and nutritional needs during a flight to determine the best food and drink, as well as food 3D printing, which could be used to print these custom meals. The airline also believes that in the future, 3D printing can be used to eliminate jet lag through customized health supplements.