Emirates is using Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) technology to manufacture components for aircraft cabins, including video monitor shrouds.
Ahmed Safa, Senior Vice President of Emirates-Engineering Support Services, believes that everything you see in an airplane cabin should one day be 3D printable. However, for now, the airline is making small steps towards this ideal.
“Over the last two years, Emirates Engineering has been actively exploring 3D printing for aircraft cabin parts as it is a transformational technology that can be used to achieve an increase in efficiency and productivity,” Safa explains.
The company’s latest 3D printed part is for their entertainment video monitor shrouds. However, rather than using Fusion Deposition Modelling (FDM), which is generally more common for aviation, Emirates is using Selective Laser Sintering (SLS).
Why SLS? It offers stronger prints and parts that weigh much less. In fact, video monitor shrouds created with SLS are between 9 and 13% lighter than FDM printed or traditionally manufactured parts.
Better yet, lighter parts result in reduced fuel emissions, cost and time. Plus, SLS also enables printing more than one part at a time, which reduces raw material waste and speeds up production.
And, of course, by being able to produce components quickly on demand, it’s possible to have a more efficient inventory management. This reduces the need for a large inventory.
For the first batch of 3D printed video monitor shrouds, Emirates worked together with 3D Systems. This meant using the company’s Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) technology platform and Duraform® ProX® FR1200 thermoplastic.
“We worked with a number of suppliers to develop prototypes of 3D printed cabin parts but ultimately decided on working with 3D Systems and UUDS. The technology we use has the potential to deliver cabin parts with reduced weight without compromising on structural integrity or cosmetic appeal,” says Safa.
After printing, the parts underwent structural, durability, flammability and chemical tests. The video monitor shrouds are now in the process of receiving EASA certification for airworthiness. Once onboard, Emirates will continue to test the parts and track their resistance to “wear and tear.”
However, the video monitor shrouds aren’t the only 3D prints onboard. Since late October, Emirates started trials with 3D printed aircraft cabin air vent grills. UUDS, the European Aviation Engineering and Certification Office, developed these parts.
Emirates is still evaluating the performance of 3D printed parts. But, the company states that they hope to pursue further opportunities for introducing 3D printed components across its operations. For now, we’ll have to wait to see what they can print up next.