We’ve seen the Chinese 3D print cars, houses, and even entire apartment buildings (well sort of). They’ve 3D printed life-sized statues, and even a working air conditioning unit. When it comes to 3D printing, the Chinese seems to really be trying their best to compete with the Western world. At the same time, it is proving that 3D printing is a technology that can be used for more than just rapid prototyping.
Because 3D printing is such a relatively new technology, especially when it comes to fabricating end-use products, there are plenty of safety concerns that arise. Are the products created through additive manufacturing really strong enough to be put to use in life or death situations? Over the course of the past couple of years we have begun to see the technology used in cases that prove that these parts can withstand such tests. One of the greatest tests of them all, would certainly be in the use of airplane parts.
We trust our lives not only to the pilots who fly these planes, and the security systems put in place at the airport, but to the airplanes themselves. We want to ensure that we are flying on an aircraft that has been constructed with regards to our safety. Thankfully there are government agencies and regulators who do this for us.
In the past couple of years, various companies have been experimenting with implementing 3D printing into the manufacturing of aircraft parts, proving that the technology can uphold the largest safety concerns of them all. Today it has been announced that China Eastern Airlines Co., Ltd. has successfully 3D printed many parts of on their in-service Boeing 777-300ER aircraft. These parts include the aircraft door handle covers, aircraft seats, and other cabin components and signs. This makes the company, China’s first civil aviation enterprise that is using 3D printing technology to manufacturing aircraft parts, and is quite a large step in innovating upon age-old manufacturing techniques.
It is noted that 3D printing is expected to help China Eastern Airlines create parts as needed, rather than having to stock thousands of individual units for each and every part that could and potentially will need to be replaced on their aircraft. It also provides for other advantages such as flexibility, ease of assembly, reduced part procurement costs, and the ability to customize each aircraft cabin on a one-to-one basis.
China Eastern Airlines makes frequent trips all around the world, to destinations which include the United States, Canada, Eastern Europe, Australia, most of Asia and South Africa. It is also worth noting that these parts are generally not ones that effect the functionality of the aircraft, although aircraft seats and door handles are part of the safety concerns that government agencies check up on. It should be interesting to see if China Eastern Airlines begins utilizing 3D printing in the fabrication of mechanical parts for their aircraft in the near future. This could also be the start of an industry wide effort made in Asia to begin utilizing the technology more.
What do you think of this move by China Eastern Airlines? Do you welcome it, or does it scare you a bit? Discuss in the 3D Printed Aircraft Parts forum thread on 3DPB.com.