view on erath out of aircraft window | © Unsplash

Transforming the Future of Maintenance, Repair and Overhaul (MRO)

Benefits of Additive Manufacturing (AM) in the MRO Sector

JUNE 10, 2024 | Reading time: 10 min

 

Aircraft maintenance plays a critical role in today's aviation industry, especially given the current challenges in global supply chains. As the demand for new aircraft increases, it is essential to keep existing aircraft in service as efficiently as possible. This is where 3D printing is making a significant impact by revolutionizing the production of spare parts. Companies like THE AVIATION AM CENTRE GmbH (AAMC) and EOS are using additive manufacturing technologies to improve the availability and cost-effectiveness of spare parts.

In this interview, Stephan Keil, Managing Director of AAMC, and Thomas Friedberger, Key Account Manager Aerospace & Defense at EOS, discuss the benefits and business case for 3D printing in the aviation industry. They explore how this technology not only drastically reduces production and logistics lead times, but also lowers costs and reduces physical inventory. They also explain which product categories are best suited for 3D printing and how it could become the primary approach for manufacturing spare parts.

Aviation Interior Parts

Spotlight on the cabin components produced by our customer Etihad Engineering at its state-of-the-art MRO facility in Abu Dhabi:

1. What is the business case for this method to become the main method for spares manufacturing, and in what timeframe do you believe it will become prevalent?

The business case is driven by three core factors:

  • producing spares at a lower cost than conventional,
  • significantly reducing lead times for production and logistics,
  • and a reduction of physical inventory in the long run

Locally printed aircraft (cabin interior) spare parts can be produced 30-50 % cheaper than the cost of the OEM spare parts, with the added benefit that lead-times for production and logistics of usually 12 weeks (or significantly more) can be shortened to two weeks or even just a few days.

Another added value of industrial 3D printing technology is that the design of the parts can be improved to address known weaknesses or to enable part customization. As one of few OEMs, EOS provides high quality technology and materials to deliver parts into regulated industries such as aviation. 

An incremental benefit of additive manufacturing is that it enables on-demand manufacturing of required parts in a mixed parts batch, which significantly reduces stock-keeping. Again, this will lead to cost reductions. Companies have two options – a) source parts from certified service providers (like AAMC) or b) build up their own MRO production hub. We see that the capability to offer in-house manufactured spare parts is a strong USP and customer retention tool for Aircraft Maintenance Service Providers. In this case EOS can offer a whole end-to-end solution to operate a production hub. And with the partnership with AAMC, we can offer the enablement to customers to comply with regulatory norms. 

Industrial 3D printed spare parts are certified and “in-flight” as we speak, so the question is more when AM will fully scale to series production. Geopolitical crisis and supply chain resilience already drive this adoption faster than we anticipated.

 

2. What products do you foresee as leading candidates to be manufactured by 3D printing for spares?

Cabin interior parts are the primary candidates for on-site printing, as they are exposed to the highest wear and tear. Certification of this parts category mainly revolves around flammability testing, which our EOS material PA 22241 FR fulfills for the targeted part sizes that are suitable for printing on EOS systems such as the EOS P 396 or EOS P 770. We also see those parts from the flight deck and cargo areas, as well as electronic equipment bay are a perfect fit for our customer. Recently, we also saw that previous aluminium parts can now be additively manufactured using our EOS HT-23 material for applications in the fuel pump systems, etc., adding again to the weight reduction target of airlines.

What 3D Printing User Are You?

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3. What are the range of manufacturing methods that come under the term “3D printing” and which processes suit certain component types better than others?

 

Selective Laser Sintering, briefly called SLS with PA 2241 FR, suits cabin interior parts that are visible to the passenger and have high requirements regarding surface quality. They can be spray-painted or colour-dyed in combination with mechanical or chemical surfacing (i.e., DyeMansion). Currently, SLS parts are the most cost-effective industrial 3D printing solution for aviation.

The inherent flame-retardant HT-23 is based on a PEKK material with 23% carbon fiber compounded in and ground to a fine powder. It’s well suited to applications that require superior thermal properties, with maximum performance and consistent properties in XY&Z dimensions. Additionally, it has a strong chemical resistance and is certified to pass the FAR 25.853 60-second vertical burn requirement.

Fused Deposition Modelling or FDM with high temp materials is suitable for (very) large parts that are invisible to the passenger and do not need to be finished with high requirements (e.g. air ducting).

The Aviation AM Center - Sample parts

4. What environmental benefits can 3D printing bring to the industry?

3D printed products inherently provide added value when it comes to responsible manufacturing: lightweight designs help to reduce carbon emissions and functional integration, and product designs solve complex manufacturing challenges while minimizing waste.

3D printed lightweight parts incorporated into an aircraft will reduce the aircraft’s weight, thereby decreasing not only the fuel consumption and hereby the operating cost of an airline but also the CO2 footprint of each passenger onboard. EOS’ 3D printing technology actively supports the target to make the aviation industry more sustainable.

Polymer AM enables sustainable spare part production and helps lower manufacturers' overall carbon footprint. By avoiding the unnecessary creation of excess spare parts, industrial polymer 3D printing also helps streamline the supply chain, cutting down on production expenses and accelerating time to market. Industrial 3D printing enables design engineers to create lighter parts, which results in fuel- and CO2e savings. With AM, functions can be integrated, and parts can be designed more robustly, exceeding the capabilities of the original part; this helps to prolong product life. All this leads to cost savings. Which will accumulate to significant amounts over the service life of a commercial airplane.

Establishing a digital and sustainable spare parts management can increase profitability by 3D printing components. Since AM eliminates long transport routes and avoids overproduction.

EOS goes even beyond this. Tools such as the EOS Carbon Calculator create transparency and help customers identify the right levers along the entire production workflow. Adding to this, EOS has a climate-friendly raw material production, compensating for transport that needs to be performed or integrating recycled feedstock. All this helps reduce our customer's own GHG emissions and lets them achieve their climate targets.

The AAMC, for instance, is even exploring recycling printed polymer parts into printing powder via a refreshing process as part of a research project.

 

Any questions about EOS and aviation feel free to contact Thomas Friedberger, Key Account Manager Aerospace & Defense, EOS thomas.friedberger@eos.info or visit our webinar “Additive manufacturing for the aftermarket – more know-how”: Print Your Warehouse (eos.info).