New Zealand-based titanium additive manufacturing company Zenith Tecnica has partnered with Air New Zealand to investigate the use of electron beam melting (EBM) for manufacturing aircraft parts and tools.
At this stage in the partnership, Air New Zealand says Zenith Tecnica has already 3D printed metal prototypes for a number of parts, including a frame for its Business Premier cabin and a range of novelty wine aerators which are designed to look like aircraft engines.
Based in Auckland, Zenith Tecnica specializes in the production and prototyping of metal AM parts and relies primarily on GE Additive’s Arcam EBM machines. The advanced EBM process uses a high power electron beam to precisely melt metal powder particles, layer by layer.
“It’s fantastic to be able to team up with and support local operator Zenith Tecnica and work with global company GE Additive to learn and collaborate in this space,” said Bruce Parton, COO of Air New Zealand. The technology, he continues, is enabling the airline to rapidly iterate and test new concepts for its aircraft.
“While the aerators, made to look like replica aircraft engines, are a bit of fun we’re really excited by the possibility they represent as 3D printing is both cost and space effective,” Parton continues. “Aircraft interiors are made up of tens of thousands of parts, and the ability to 3D print on demand lightweight parts we only require a small number of, rather than rely on traditional manufacturing methods is of huge benefit to our business, without compromising safety, strength or durability.”
Founded in 2014, Zenith Tecnica has extensive experience working with titanium 3D printing. For its part, Air New Zealand first began exploring the use of 3D printing for its business in 2016. Seeking to benefit from the technology’s manufacturing flexibility, lower costs and rapid turnarounds, the airline has produced small parts for its IFE screens using 3D printing.
“This is a good project to demonstrate the strength, versatility and utility of titanium 3D printed parts for aircraft applications and it’s very exciting to be working alongside Air New Zealand on this journey,” commented Martyn Newby, Managing Director of Zenith Tecnica. “We are in a very good position to support the local adoption of 3D printing for aviation applications and welcome Air New Zealand’s enthusiasm to embrace this emerging technology and help take it to the mainstream.”
In addition to partnering with Zenith Tecnica, Air New Zealand has also been working alongside ST Engineering Aerospace for the development of more advanced parts as well as Auckland University, Victoria University of Wellington and other tech companies to explore the potential of new technologies and processes. For instance, the airline recently started using a 3D laser scanner to create component and tool designs as well as interior modelling.