Emirates Uses SLS Printing For Better Fuel Economy and Supply Chain Efficiency

Flame retardant nylon material and 3D Systems SLS printing help airline
lower weight of in-cabin parts for significant operational cost savings
opportunity

CHALLENGE:

Reduce part weight for high volume, high turnover parts to improve
operating efficiency and cost savings using materials that comply with
stringent aviation standards.

SOLUTION:

Fit-for-purpose parts delivered using reverse engineering and 3D
Systems’ selective laser sintering (SLS) with certified DuraForm¨ ProX¨ FR1200
flame retardant nylon material.

RESULTS:

  • 9-13%
    weight reduction in SLS printed parts as compared to conventionally produced ones
  • Significant
    cost savings introduced with every weight saving measure
  • Potential
    for significant reductions in fuel emissions
  • Flame
    retardant nylon passes certification for civil aviation
  • SLS
    printing offers faster, cheaper alternative for delivering bespoke cabin parts
    with potential to reduce inventory for increased supply chain efficiency

Everything matters in the aviation industry, and anything that can be
improved, should be improved. Emirates airline has taken this approach from day
one and uses innovative new technologies to change the landscape of aviation.
As a company in constant search of leading methodologies to deliver better
products, better experiences, and better cost-value benefit, Emirates began
exploring 3D technology in 2014, and identified interior cabin parts as a
fertile testing ground for bringing 3D plastic production on board. Of
particular interest was a new and improved solution for high volume, high
turnover complex components such as its seatback video monitor shrouds, which
must periodically be replaced to restore the aircraft cabin appeal and image.

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 taking advantage of
the unique optimization capabilities of additive manufacturing to deliver
ubiquitous in-cabin parts, Emirates seeks to realize savings through lighter
weight parts, reduced inventory, and a more efficient supply chain.

Safety first: materials matter

It should come as no surprise and great comfort that rigorous
certification protocols are the gatekeepers to new innovation in aviation.
Although Emirates was extremely interested in taking advantage of 3D printing
for all the benefits additive technology offers in terms of weight reduction,
lower operating costs, and supply chain efficiency, these pragmatic interests
always come second to safety. Therefore, after selecting to work with 3D
Systems due to the company’s leading expertise in additive manufacturing and
dedicated aerospace department, Emirates laid out the material and
certification requirements that needed to be met for final 3D printed parts to
pass inspection and be incorporated in the aircraft cabin.

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. By using SLS printing, Emirates is no longer bound by injection molding design rules
and is able to optimize its designs to create fit-for-purpose parts with an
optimized strength-to-weight ratio. 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

In addition to a 3D printing production process and certified SLS
material for aviation, Emirates needed a 3D design file to launch the
manufacturing process. Without preexisting CAD data on hand for video monitor
shroud production, Emirates enlisted help from FARO Technologies using the
FARO¨ Design ScanArm to collect point cloud data, and 3D Systems Geomagic Design X™ reverse engineering software to turn that data into a parametric CAD file
ready for 3D printing. This scan-based design workflow enabled a more efficient
and accurate design process that added agility to Emirates’ process.

3D Systems’ aerospace applications team designed key engineering
improvements to update the new CAD data to address areas of stress where the
video monitor shroud most often failed, as well as to introduce additional
opportunities to reduce part weight. Because the final part would be 3D
printed, the design was no longer constrained by the need to adhere to draft
angles and consistent thicknesses, which enabled a number of design
improvements over the original part.

Once the video monitor shroud design was complete, 3D Systems’
technology continued to deliver productivity through a faster production 3D
printing process with SLS.

“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… The opportunities and potential for lighter weight parts are
staggering.” — Ahmed Safa, Senior Vice President, Engineering Support Services
at Emirates

“We wanted to print as many parts as possible in the fastest possible
timeframe,” said Safa. 3D Systems SLS printing technology offered Emirates lighter components, faster
manufacturing, and the ability to produce multiple parts at the same time
through printer nesting algorithms that allow for smaller parts to print within
the voids of larger parts.

Taking a step back to view the broader supply chain, Safa says the
potential and cost advantages are enormous: “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 potential impact of
this capability is more far reaching than accelerated print speeds and faster
part delivery, and hints at a future where savings come from reduced inventory
costs as well. In environments like the airline industry where maintaining
large volumes of stock for every individual cabin component is part of standard
operating procedure and cost, relocating warehouse aisles to file names is an
incredible opportunity.

SLS printing and On Demand
Manufacturing

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.

Satisfied with the properties and performance of the DuraForm material,
Emirates will soon transition the new 3D printed components to onboard trials
and full certification. According to Safa, this is a standard practice for any
new part: “Once we perfect the manufacturing of the component, we need to
monitor to see how durable the parts are during normal passenger operation.”

In the meantime, Emirates will continue to innovate. “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.”

Contact our team of On Demand Manufacturing
experts for a quote or advice:

info.asiapac@3dsystems.com +61 3 9819 4422.

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