Fly Etihad and touch region’s first 3D printed cabin item

UAE's Strata, Etihad Airways Engineering and Siemens join hands

ABU DHABI 29 March 2017: A landmark pilot project between Siemens, Strata, the UAE’s advanced composite aerostructures manufacturing company, and Etihad Airways Engineering has successfully developed the first aircraft interior part to be designed, certified and manufactured with 3D printing technology in the Middle East.

The part, a plastic frame which surrounds media screens on Etihad Airways aircraft, can be manufactured on demand, cutting production time and eliminating the need for shipping or a locally-stored inventory.

The additive manufacturing technology, known as 3D printing, also removes the requirement to design and build tooling for the manufacturing process, allowing future design updates to be modelled virtually and printed swiftly using existing equipment. The monitor frame was selected for the pilot project because of its complexity and appearance requirements. The 3D-printed parts can be employed in Etihad Airways aircraft immediately.

“This project showcases our joint capabilities in the UAE to design, certify and manufacture parts using the latest technologies. Its importance cannot be understated, as 3D printing enables high flexibility during design and prototyping and short lead times during production. It opens new possibilities to the industry and inspires our talented engineers to make their ideas become a reality,” said Jeff Wilkinson, CEO, Etihad Airways Engineering, during a joint press conference held at GMIS 2017, the world’s first cross-industry forum.

Great Potential

Etihad Airways Engineering has identified great potential for 3D printing technology in aviation to enable faster production of complex and discontinued parts and to allow design improvements by airlines. The design and manufacture of aircraft parts are complex, requiring a stringent certification process to ensure airworthiness and approval for use, according to Wilkinson.

Badr Al Olama, CEO of Strata and head of the GMIS organising committee, said the time frame in manufacturing aircraft parts is the primary challenge. The new project would cut production time for individual parts from 120 days to only a few days.

During the project, Siemens used its global expertise in industrial 3D printing to consult on the selection of materials, testing and the development of the manufacturing processes. Etihad Airways Engineering was responsible for the part’s design and its certification for use in aviation. Strata 3D-printed the part in their Al Ain factory, supported by local partners VPS and D2M. The UAE General Civil Aviation Authority, GCAA, approved the entire process.

“This project is an excellent example of what can be achieved by combining expertise from the right global and local partners,” said Assem Khalaili, Executive Vice President, Industry Customer Services at Siemens Middle East.

More to Come

With the successful completion of the pilot project, Siemens and Strata intend to investigate the development of a three-year joint roadmap for the further industrialisation of 3D printing in the UAE, Middle East and North Africa. The roadmap is to include training and skill development for UAE citizens, said Siemens.

The company is also able to integrate the entire additive manufacturing process from end-to-end, with a portfolio including computer-aided design software, control, automation and drive systems and technology for the digital modelling of all processes. Siemens currently uses 3D printing to manufacture parts for industrial gas turbines and rail vehicles, making the design, production and delivery of parts faster, enabling rapid prototyping, manufacturing and repair.

Strata will also continue to explore 3D printing technology in a range of applications in aerostructures including tooling, fixtures and consumables, using both metallic and non-metallic materials.

 – By Rajive Singh