Air New Zealand, Microsoft, US-based supplier of aerospace parts Moog and ST Engineering from Singapore, joined together to install a 3D printed part on a Boeing 777-300ER, a wide-body commercial jet.
Hinting at the future of supply chain in the aerospace industry, Carrie Hurihanganui, Air New Zealand’s Chief Ground Operations Officer, said, “Being able to 3D print certain components on the go would be transformative and drive significant efficiencies and sustainability benefits.”
From the cloud
3D printing technology has enabled the manufacturing of parts directly from digital inventories. This way businesses save a significant amount of revenues that is otherwise spent on spare part storage and delivery.
However, one of the problems that remain with digital inventories is the protection of intellectual property and secure sharing of CAD files stored in a database.
With the help of the cloud computing service Microsoft Azure, Moog has developed a digital security platform, VeriPart. The security platform uses blockchain to secure, transfer and trace CAD files for the aerospace industry.
Using VeriPart, the CAD file of the required spare part was sent to an FDM/FFF 3D printer in Los Angeles, from where the Boeing 777-300ER was due to fly. The part in question was a small ‘bumper’ at the back of the LCD screen, which locks the screen in its position behind the passenger seat.
Hurihanganui added, “Rather than having the cost associated with purchasing, shipping and storing physical parts and potentially having to fly an aircraft with an unavailable seat, this system would allow us to print a part when and where we need it in hours.”
Standardizing 3D printing
Commercial aircraft manufacturers and airlines such as Emirates have seen the advantages of 3D printing such as faster lead times.
Hurihanganui commented, “The end result of the collaboration opens the door to a future of distributed networks starting with a digital design file and ending with a physical part. This will decrease lead times and result in less down time for airlines.”
Air New Zealand, for its part, has been working to make 3D printing a standard practice in the industry. Last year, New Zealand’s flag carrier partnered with Auckland-based Zenith Tecnica to 3D print wine aerators and cocktail trays. The airline is helped by the aerospace wing of its long-time partner ST Engineering, which converts traditional 2D drawings of parts to 3D models for Air New Zealand.
On the recent collaboration between the four companies, George Small, CTO of Moog, said, “Our combined efforts will lay the groundwork for the redesign of global supply chains, creating new possibilities for our customers in the aerospace market and beyond.”