I’ve never been in business class on any airplane, but I’m told it’s pretty nice. You’re not wedged between two or more people with little or no elbow room, the seats are more comfortable, there’s more leg room, and, best of all, you get free drinks. There’s even – on some airlines, at least – cute little cocktail trays that fold down unobtrusively so that you can set your drink to the side without having your space impeded by the awkwardly-sized food trays they have in economy seating. Very cool. (It’s the little things.)
Air New Zealand is pretty focused on those cocktail trays right now – after all, they are an important part of the flight experience. (They would be for me, anyway.) When a tray breaks, the entire seat is out of commission until the tray can be replaced, which can be a surprisingly long time. It’s the same issue that plagues thousands of companies – when you depend on an outside manufacturer for parts, you’re stuck waiting for as long as it takes for that manufacturer to create and ship a new one. This is why more and more companies are turning to 3D printing as a way to produce their own parts, instantly and as-needed.
Air New Zealand has decided to take a step forward into 3D printing for the manufacture of their cocktail trays. Again, while the miniature trays may not seem terribly significant, an airline can’t put a passenger in a seat where anything at all is broken, even if it’s not directly safety-related. This is particularly true in business class, where customers fully expect to benefit from all the perks they (or their employers) paid extra for. In fact, depending on the layout of the seating, one broken cocktail tray can actually put three seats out of commission for weeks at a time, resulting in thousands of dollars of lost profit.
Amazing that something so small can cause so much trouble, right? Air New Zealand has decided to cut out the middleman and begin manufacturing their own cocktail trays using 3D printing, which they have been working on with help from the Auckland University of Technology. The trays are the first step; the airline will likely begin replacing other parts within their cabins with 3D printed parts in the near future.
“Aircraft interiors are made up of tens of thousands of parts,” said Bruce Parton, Chief Operations Officer for Air New Zealand. “Not only can’t we hold stock of every replacement part we might need, we often only require a small number of units which can be really expensive to produce using traditional manufacturing methods and can involve frustrating delays while a replacement part is delivered. A big advantage of 3D printing is that it allows us to make cost-effective lightweight parts ourselves, and to do so quickly without compromising on safety, strength or durability.”
The airline expects to install the 3D printed trays in the next few weeks; they’ve completed fireproof testing and are now just waiting for final regulatory approval. Air New Zealand will be joining a growing number of airlines that are starting to incorporate 3D printed parts into their planes; the most notable right now is Airbus, whose new A350 XWB aircraft contains over 1,000 3D printed parts. We may yet see that 100% 3D printed plane before too long.
Check out the video below detailing Air NZ’s plans for the 3D printed cocktail trays. What do you think of these changes for the airlines? Discuss in the 3D Printed Cocktail Trays forum over at 3DPB.com.