Feb 24, 2016 | By Andre

3D printing, like most technologies out there, relies heavily on a one-step at a time approach when it comes to pushing adoption forward. A case in point example of this can be seen in elements of the aeronautics sector. As reported before, military aircraft are beginning to use 3D printers when replacing parts that are no longer produced while Chinese airliners are already playing with cost cutting measures that utilize 3D printing technology.

Well, it now appears that Air New Zealand is taking yet another step forward by researching the use of 3D printers to build parts on its long haul flights. While early efforts between the airline and Auckland University of Technology have already provided the means to 3D print fold down cocktail trays for its business class section, other strategies are being researched that would further the use of 3D printing technology to streamline their business model and reduce inventory at the same time.

Bruce Parton, COO of Air New Zealand suggests that “aircraft interiors are made up of tens of thousands of parts. 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.”

He goes on to illustrate that “if a seat part is broken, it may lock out all three seats for up to 120 days which obviously means that seat can’t be sold. So this is one of the real big benefits. We can do quick turnaround times. So your imagination really is the limiting factor."

Feasibility studies surrounding the 3D printed cocktail trays have already been done and the airline is hoping to start installing them onto their airplanes in the next few weeks. Cutting down inventory with the help of 3D printing has big implications on cost savings there’s no question about it.

"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," Parton said.

“3D printing is one of the many technologies that enables us to perhaps not to hold any inventory anymore and go to an idea when you can digital print, on demand, as you require it,” he added. Furthermore, with fierce competition between airlines these days, these cost saving measures are important when it comes to the ability to provide cheaper tickets to its customers.

In the end, while installing small parts such as 3D printed cocktail trays might not win any 3D printing breakthrough awards any time soon, the further use of the technology to provide cost-saving measures in an already cash-strapped industry is a good sign. The ability to avoid keeping a large inventory of parts that may never be used is part of the appeal behind 3D printing and it seems like more and more airlines are beginning to figure this out.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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