Etihad Airways is the second largest airline in the United Arab Emirates, and is firmly committed to the idea that 3D printing has a solid place in the aerospace industry. In Etihad Airways’ case, it has a solid place right in the airplane cabin with the passengers. The company was the recipient of the first certified 3D printed interior aircraft component in the EMEA region last year, a plastic monitor frame, and now it is partnering with BigRep to create a roadmap for the development of the next generation of additive manufacturing solutions for the aerospace industry.

The two companies plan to take new approaches to realize the full potential of 3D printing for cabin parts in particular. Their goal is to accelerate the use of the technology in aviation with a focus on cabin interior parts for both new and retrofitted aircraft.

“Etihad Airways Engineering and BigRep share a vision to bring the 3D-printed cabin into production, together with our partners,” said Berhard Randerath, Vice President Engineering, Design & Innovation at Etihad Airways Engineering. “Our goal is to enable 3D-printing technologies for cabin parts – be it on new aircraft programmes or for retrofit installations – to serve our airline customers with innovative and smart solutions.”

Etihad Airways will use the experience that it already has with 3D printed interior cabin components to come up with novel ideas for components that can also be additively manufactured. Berlin-based BigRep sees the partnership as another step toward becoming a global leader in digital manufacturing.

“We believe that Etihad Airways Engineering, with its expertise, is the perfect fit to cooperatively shape the industrialisation of AM for the aviation industry,” said Stephan Beyer, CEO (interim) & CFO of BigRep GmbH. “We believe that we offer the best additive manufacturing solutions today with our BigRep equipment, but to unfold the full potential of our technology for the aerospace sector, we have to jointly certify new aviation materials and establish specific AM design and engineering guidelines in parallel.”

BigRep is a young company, only founded three and a half years ago, but has rapidly become a leader in large-format 3D printing technology. Its large-scale 3D printers are ideal for industries such as aerospace and automotive, and its partnerships with companies such as Etihad Airlines have helped it to gain a foothold in these and other industries.

[Image: Etihad Airways]

BigRep is also a developer of 3D printing materials, and both it and Etihad Airways agree that there is a need for a wider spectrum of polymer materials that are suitable for additive manufacturing and that can pass the aerospace certification process. While 3D printed components are popping up here and there in aircraft cabins, they are far from being widespread, and that’s because there is a lack of variety in high-performance materials that are EASA- and FAA-certified. Both BigRep and Etihad Airways have agreed to work on the development and testing of new material grades in accordance with EASA and FAA criteria.

We may be a while away from seeing an entirely 3D printed plane, but thanks to companies like these, we may find ourselves looking around at many more 3D printed components when we sit down inside airplane cabins in the near future.

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