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Alliance takes interior design to a new dimension

Posted 19 January 2018 · Add Comment

Strata Manufacturing, Etihad Airways and German company, Siemens, have come together to create the Middle East’s first 3-D printing service for aircraft cabin parts. Alan Dron reports.

Additive manufacturing – frequently called 3-D printing from its ability to build intricately shaped components layer by layer by melting metal or plastic with incredible precision – is expected to be a transformative technology in the next decade.
Earlier this year, a grouping of two UAE companies – Strata Manufacturing and Etihad Airways – plus German engineering giant, Siemens, was formed to create a pilot project to design, certify and manufacture aircraft interiors.
Under the partnership, the pilot project developed 3-D printing capabilities for aircraft cabin interior products for Etihad.
Siemens employed its expertise in digitalisation and 3-D printing to assist in the selection of materials, testing and the preparation of processes; the design team at Etihad Airways Engineering successfully managed to certify the parts, while Strata qualified the printing process itself and carried out the actual printing in its Al Ain facility.
Strata and Siemens are currently investigating the development of a strategic roadmap over the next three years for the further industrialisation of 3-D printing.
“Through our R&D team, Strata managed to coordinate this effort with our partners to establish these unique capabilities in 3-D printing in a record time,” said Ismail Abdulla, Strata’s CEO. “Our goal is to deploy 3-D printing on practical applications to provide value-added solutions for us and for our customers.”
A major aspect of the plan will be the training and development of UAE nationals in the skills that will be necessary for the wider use of the technologies.
“We see great opportunities for 3-D printing as a disruptive force in manufacturing, and expect it to play a key role in a globally competitive, increasingly digitalised industrial landscape in the Middle East,” said Assem Khalaili, executive vice-president, industry customer services, at Siemens Middle East.
“We are proud to be working with Strata and Etihad to advance 3-D printing and strengthen local manufacturing here in the region.”
“Five years ago, 3-D printing was not adjusted for mass production,” explained Bernhard Randerath, Etihad’s vice-president, design engineering and innovation. “It was more or less a prototyping tool. In the last three years we have had a massive revolution in seeing how fast we can do 3-D printing and the really brilliant quality we can achieve. The problem is that everything we need to do on an aircraft needs to be certified.”
Early in 2017, Etihad embarked on an exhaustive process to gain certification for 3-D printed parts on its aircraft and achieved certification approval during the Global Manufacturing and Industrialization Summit in March.
This will allow the three companies to start the manufacture of cabin components using the 3-D printing process. This will also allow Etihad to start replacing cabin components that require updating.
The initial part to be produced in this way, a plastic frame that surrounds media screens on Etihad’s aircraft, can be manufactured on demand, cutting production time and eliminating the need for shipping or a locally stored inventory.
The additive manufacturing technology 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 3-D-printed parts can be employed in Etihad Airways aircraft immediately.
“With Strata’s capabilities they can do really fast prototyping,” said Randerath. “We prototype it, then put it in the aircraft and know within minutes if it fits.”
At present, the 3-D printing system is being used for minor components, but the intention in future is to use the process for much larger pieces of the cabin, such as toilet units.
Strata hopes to expand the applications of this technology and deploy it on practical applications that will allow the development of local knowledge-building that will lead to future innovations benefitting the broader aerospace industry.
 

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