Air New Zealand and Zenith Tecnica explore 3D printing of plane parts
Air New Zealand has teamed up with Auckland company Zenith Tecnica to investigate 3D printed metal parts for aircraft and tools which it says can cut development time and costs.
So far Zenith has produced some novelty wine aerators and premium cabin parts but the airline says it committed to innovation through 3D printing with new materials.
Zenith is on the North Shore and specialises in the design and manufacture of 3D printed titanium and other metals using a technology called electron beam melting.
It has built parts for satellites, Formula One cars and yachts.
Air New Zealand chief operations officer Bruce Parton said it was fantastic to team up with a local operator which uses General Electric-built machines.
”While we are in the initial stages of working with these companies on 3D printing, so far, we have printed prototype metal framing for our Business Premier cabin, to quickly test new concepts and ideas and we have also made novelty wine aerators.”
Major plane manufacturers around the world are making more use of 3D printing and in this country Rocket Lab uses the technology to make some engine parts.
Parton said while the aerators, made to look like replica aircraft engines, were ”a bit of fun” they represented the potential of 3D printing.
”Aircraft interiors are made up of tens of thousands of parts, and the ability to 3D print on demand lightweight parts we only require a small number of, rather than rely on traditional manufacturing methods is of huge benefit to our business, without compromising safety, strength or durability.”
Zenith Tecnica managing director Martyn Newby said the company had years of metal 3D printing experience.
“This is a good project to demonstrate the strength, versatility and utility of titanium 3D printed parts for aircraft applications and it’s very exciting to be working alongside Air New Zealand.”
In 2016 Air New Zealand began working with the Auckland University of Technology to use 3D printing to make new fold down cocktail trays.
It has now moved into items like improved small parts for IFE screens which save cost and time, as well as working with new partners such as ST Engineering Aerospace on more advanced parts.
It said it was also exploring the boundaries of new processes with Auckland University, Victoria University of Wellington and other technology companies.
It has been using a 3D laser scanner for creating parts’ designs, tool designs and interior modelling.
This week Boeing invested $18 million in a metal additive manufacturer company devoted to 3D-printing technology that boasts a promising prospect of 3D-printed parts for aerospace and other production applications.
Digital Alloys printing technology can rapidly combine multiple metals into each part, which enhances thermal, electrical, magnetic and mechanical properties.
The process allows metals like titanium and high-temperature alloys to be 3D-printed for parts that could be used on Boeing products.