Part of Emirates Airline’s business model is to improve those things that are capable of being improved, always. They have been successful in doing this by integrating new technologies into the aviation landscapes. One of these technologies includes 3D technology – 3D scanning, reverse engineering, 3D printing/rapid prototyping, etc. – something Emirates initially began exploring in 2014. The company utilized these technologies to improve some complex plastic components within their aircraft cabins. Specifically, they were drawn to using 3D technology to produce video monitor shrouds which require occasional updates in order to bring modern appeal to aircraft interiors. Using 3D technology on components such as these allowed for the company to increase both turnover and volume on parts that are difficult to produce efficiently using traditional production methods.
According to Ahmed Safa, Senior Vice President, Engineering Support Services at Emirates, “At Emirates there is a strong focus on operational efficiency. Even a small reduction in weight of a single cabin component can have a significant impact when compounded over our fleet of over 265 aircraft, and can lead to reduced fuel emissions and associated costs. The opportunities and potential for lighter weight parts are staggering.”
By utilizing additive manufacturing technologies, Emirates has been able to no just increase turnover and volume, but also save money by producing lighter parts, creating an “on-demand” inventory and increasing supply chain efficiency.
Materials: Safety Matters
New innovations in the aerospace industry must undergo vigorous testing in order to be certified for implementation on aircraft. Thank being said, Emirates infatuation with 3D technologies, and its numerous advantages, comes second to safety. Because of this, Emirates chose to utilize 3D Systems and their industry-leading products to ensure that the parts produce using additive manufacturing techniques were of the utmost integrity. After selecting 3D Systems, Emirates laid out the certification and material requirements of end-use 3D printed parts necessary to pass the final inspection that would permit them to be used within the interior cabin of their planes.
According to 3D Systems, “The result of this collaboration is DuraForm® ProX® FR1200, a FAR 25.853 compliant, flame retardant nylon material that is 10% lighter than the average aviation plastic. Designed for use with selective laser sintering (SLS) 3D printing, this powdered material is fused together layer by layer according to the requirements of the design file.”
SLS 3D printing allowed Emirates to move away from using injection molded designs and instead create the optimal – in terms of strength, weight and fit – end-use part designs. 3D Systems explains that “DuraForm ProX FR1200 also passes AITM smoke density and toxicity requirements and has a UL certification for consumer goods. Furthermore, Emirates is in the process of securing Form 1 certification to validate the SLS printed video shroud part design as approved for aircraft use, which it plans to bring into flight once fully certified.”
Designing Fit-for-Purpose Parts
Finding both a certified SLS material and 3D printing process isn’t the only thing that was required of Emirates in this process. There was also a need for a 3D design file to start the manufacturing process of these parts. Without any preexisting CAD files, Emirates needed to use 3D scanners to capture point cloud data. After collecting this data, they utilized 3D Systems Geomagic Design X, a sophisticated reverse engineering software, to transform this data into a parametric CAD file that could be sent to the 3D Systems ProX SLS 500 3D printers used to produce their fit-for-purpose parts. Implementing 3D scanning into their workflow allowed for a more accurate and efficient design process.
The aerospace applications team from 3D Systems were able to design pivotal engineering improvements in order to update this afore-mentioned CAD data to address portions of the video monitor shroud that typically failed under stress. Because they were using 3D printing rather than traditional production methods, their design was not restricted by the need to adhere to consistent thickness and draft angles which in turned allowed for numerous design improvements to be made on the original part.
After finalizing the video monitor shroud design, 3D Systems provided Emirates with even more productivity by using the SLS 3D printing process – one much faster than the traditional methods used by the airline. “We wanted to print as many parts as possible in the fastest possible timeframe,” said Safa. 3D Systems SLS 3D printing technology allowed Emirates to produce lighter parts fast and gave them the capability of producing multiple parts at the same time through printer nesting algorithms that allow for smaller parts to print within the voids of larger parts.
Reflecting on the massive potential and cost advantages that this 3D printing process brought to their supply chain, Safa said, “Consider the traditional supply chain and all its different elements. Now you can cut that supply chain into a software file that’s hosted in a virtual warehouse.” The ability to produce end-use, fit-for-purpose parts not only offers enormous potential in terms of accelerated print speeds and faster part delivery, but also shows signs of reducing inventory costs significantly. These benefits, along with the ability to keep parts in files and produce them only when necessary, are crucial in an industry like that of aviation where airlines have had no other option forced to keep large inventories on hand which carries heavy production costs.
SLS 3D Printing & On-Demand Manufacturing
According to 3D Systems, “Using SLS printing, 3D Systems’ On Demand Manufacturing team produced the video monitor shrouds, which are between 9 and 13% lighter than their conventionally manufactured counterparts, and then used Geomagic® Control X™ 3D inspection and metrology software to verify part accuracy by comparing the final printed geometry to the original digital file. The new printed parts were then sent for manufacturing certification by UUDS, a European aviation engineering and certification office and services provider based in France. UUDS put the 3D printed parts through a broad range of structural, durability, flammability and chemical testing.
Having approved the properties and performance of the DuraForm® ProX® FR1200 material, Emirates now looks to both use these 3D printed parts in on-board trails and seek full certification for future cabin implementation. This is no different than with any other traditionally manufactured part according to Saha: “Once we perfect the manufacturing of the component, we need to monitor to see how durable the parts are during normal passenger operation.”
Emirates will undoubtedly continue to seek out further innovations throughout the process. “We are in a very special and unique position to leverage the extreme and staggering potential of opportunities presented by these emerging technologies,” says Safa. “They are helping us shape our vision and make it a reality.”