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Air New Zealand to 3D Print Metal Parts For Interiors, MRO and Product Development

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Air New Zealand is looking to 3D print parts for aircraft interiors, MRO, product development and tooling. The company is working with Zenith Tecnica which uses Arcam EBM equipment from GE Additive. They’re also working with ST Engineering Aerospace, which is the largest company in MRO (Maintenance Repair Operations), Additionally, the company partnered with Auckland University, Victoria University of Wellington and technology companies on developing new applications.

The company made a great video showcasing what they’re doing. Its a very clear video that really explains metal 3D printing well as well as the value of metal printing.

Using 3D scanning, metal 3D printing and 3D printing in polymers the company is looking broadly how they can apply 3D printing to MRO, product development, tooling and interiors. Starting in 2016 they’ve made prototypes for interiors. The company also created metal bracketing for interiors and made In Flight Entertainment screen housings as well. As a demonstration, they have now 3D printed wine aerators to show off metal 3D printing. For the uninitiated a wine aerator is and how wine aeration will make your life better it is a little doohicky that you pour wine into in order to let it breathe. By letting a wine breathe which lets it oxidize and evaporate. Dr. Vinnie at Wine Spectator explains, “Oxidation is what makes an apple turn brown after its skin is broken, and evaporation is the process of liquid turning into vapor. Wine is made up of hundreds of compounds, and with aeration, usually, the volatile undesirable compounds will evaporate faster than the desirable, aromatic and flavorful ones.” What is the difference between an aerator and a decanter? A decanter is a better solution according to WineEnthusiast, “The main difference is time. If you have limited time to spare and you’d like your wine to be softer, a handy aerator will do the trick in minutesAn aerator is, therefore, more appropriate for casual meals, where time is of the essence, but the quality of experience is important as well. When time is on your side, and you’re preparing a more leisurely meal or inviting over guests, a decanter is the best solution.”

In this case, metal 3D printing seems to have been used to create a more expensive version of a product that is commercially available between $8 and $200 (seem to be quite the rip off also, a good product category for someone to look into) that is used to save time on 27 hour flights from London to Auckland. I’ve never flown Air New Zealand but apparently, they’re so good that in a 27 hour flight which includes a stop in LA and goes on where the map usually ends I’m going to be spoilt for time. Joris, 22 hours in, “oh wow thank goodness for the aerator otherwise we would have to wait for the wine to decant.” The aerator is made in such a way however that it can only be made with 3D printing.

Air New Zealand Chief Operations Officer Bruce Parton,

“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.  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.”

“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.  While we are in the initial stages of working with these companies on 3D printing, so far, we have printed prototype metal framing for our Business Premier cabin, to quickly test new concepts and ideas and we have also made novelty wine aerators.

Zenith Tecnica Managing Director Martyn Newby,

“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.  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.”

It is a forward-thinking move to as an airline take a thorough step in exploring 3D printing. Air New Zealand, actually does a lot of MRO activities is  CASA, FAA and EASA certified. It tests repairs and overhauls components including electrical, composites, APU (auxiliary power units) and avionics. The company also does structural repair and total interior refurbishment of aircraft including the installation of avionics systems. They can do ETOPS monitoring but also manufacture modifications for aircraft. They do work for military aviation as well and they already have plasma spray, electrospray, and electrodeposition capability in-house. As a side gig, the company makes Lockheed Martin C-130H/J Nose and Main Landing Gear Ski Assemblies. They also have a gas turbine unit that does engine repairs on GE engines. This all is quite beyond the capabilities of most airlines.

Air New Zealand’s remote location probably lead to it having to do a lot itself and build out an advanced manufacturing capability as a result for this. So the doohicky was a bit of fun but the intent is quite clear. A lot of airline cargo capacity is currently parts for other aircraft. The MRO business itself is a multi-billion dollar business that is beset with logistical challenges. When airplanes sit still because parts cannot be found it is at huge cost.

Additionally, direct energy deposition 3D printing technologies can be used to rejuvenate parts. A worn turbine blisk, for example, could have material added to it to become good as new. Using 3D Printing for Blisk repair is a huge application in and of itself since so much of the world is powered by turbines. This is an excellent article on using 3D printing to repair turbine blisks. GE has been working on friction welding for blisk repair for quite some time now and many companies have been investing in various deposition technologies for this application. This in and of itself is an application worth exploring.

If the Air New Zealand team just turned to 3D printing for faster turnaround times on prototypes it would already be a great step for them. More ambitiously, there are at the moment no global leaders in metal 3D printing for aviation. Technical companies are jockeying for space behind the scenes while Tier 1’s and OEMs continue investing in 3D printing for manufacturing. The MRO industry is waking up to the possibilities of 3D printing. Aviation is really an exciting area for us at the moment and maybe this move will signify more 3D printing with a Kiwi accent.



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