Air New Zealand has staged a proof of concept demonstration of on-demand 3D printing of replacement aircraft parts in partnership with Microsoft and aerospace industry players.
A digital file for the part was ordered from Singapore-based ST Engineering and sent to a 3D printer operated by Moog in Los Angeles where it was printed and installed within hours on an Air New Zealand Boeing 777-300 aircraft ahead of its scheduled departure.
The part was non-critical: It sits behind monitors in business class seats to prevent the screen from damaging the seat when it is pushed in.
Air New Zealand says the entire transaction, from purchase to installation, was logged in Moog’s VeriPart digital supply chain system, which runs on the Microsoft Azure cloud.
VeriPart is a Moog system designed to assure the data, process and performance integrity of 3D printed parts for aerospace applications.
It uses a blockchain platform that allows an engineering partner of Moog to release its intellectual property in a controlled way.
The airline is able to 3D print only the number of parts ordered. Each printed part is securely authenticated and traceable via VeriPart, providing the added value of configuration control for the life of the aircraft, according to Air New Zealand.
Air New Zealand said: "This four-company experiment has made it possible to prove the concept as technically viable and prove its potential value to the aircraft maintenance industry.
"The end result of the collaboration opens the door to a future of distributed networks starting with a digital design file and ending with a physical part. This will decrease lead times and result in less down time for airlines."
Air New Zealand chief ground operations officer Carrie Hurihanganui said: "Rather than having the cost associated with purchasing, shipping and storing physical parts and potentially having to fly an aircraft with an unavailable seat, this system would allow us to print a part when and where we need it in hours."