Etihad Airways Engineering’s design organization has designed and certified three 3D-printed cabin interior plastic parts. These have been manufactured at partner facilities so far, but Etihad plans to bring 3D manufacturing in-house in the future.
The MRO is now focusing on cabin interior plastic parts because it sees the biggest potential for 3D printing in these parts. Its first ones were made using filament deposit technology, but Etihad is now moving toward selective laser sintering using powder.
An Etihad manager says 3D is beneficial in rapid prototyping of parts that Etihad designs itself for customizing cabin interiors. “It is also very useful for making tools and fixtures that can be customized to the needs of the engineers.”
When printing actual parts, the benefit is a shorter lead time compared with ordering parts from the OEM. But this gain depends on the quantities needed. “3D printers are still relatively slow,” the manager says. However, taking into account the time and cost to make a tool for injection molding, 3D printing becomes competitive for small to medium quantities. “The machines also get better and materials evolve, promising better economics in the future,” says the Etihad manager.
So at present, Etihad uses 3D printing where it makes sense in cost and lead time. But the MRO is working toward the vision of an entire 3D-printed cabin interior.
And for that, an aircraft MRO needs strong partners. In late November, Etihad formed a strategic partnership with EOS, which will significantly expand Etihad’s 3D capabilities. The initial phase of this collaboration will include qualification of machines, process and materials for aviation regulatory requirements.
After initial steps, Etihad will certify additive processes and test and qualify new polymer materials with EOS. Long term, Etihad plans to roll out additive among its customers and within the broader aviation ecosystem.
Also in late November, Etihad decided to deploy a BigRep ONE 3D printer. This printer will be used to print jigs, fixtures and non-flying parts on site and on demand. But Bigrep’s large-scale 3D printers are also suited to print large cabin parts—possibly with a high level of customization.