The aircraft repair industry faces many engineering challenges that standard solutions cannot address. To better address them, KLM Engineering and Maintenance has adopted 3D printing to enhance their operations. They use 3D printing to test new designs and for tooling. This is due to the versatility that 3D printing offers, such as speed and cost reduction.
Challenges in the MRO industry
A standard passenger plane has over 30000 components that at any point can fail. This can occur either due to damage or obsolescence. The biggest challenge faced by KLM E&M is the issue of unplanned repairs. Unplanned repairs occur over 50% of the time during inspections in a given year in the industry. This means that in most cases, companies are forced to react to these challenges or have a large inventory of spare parts. If a company cannot quickly access spare parts or test components quicker, then it will lead to delays. Additive manufacturing was the direction that KLM E&M took to gain an advantage over their competitors.
Above is an example tool that KLM produces with our Bolt Pro 3D printer. It is a tool holder used while performing fluorescent penetrant inspections on aircraft engines.
Leapfrog and KLM moving forward
5 years ago KLM bought a Leapfrog Creatr 3D printer to improve their rapid prototyping lead times for internal tooling. They used the Creatr for tooling and to print cabin components to test before production. This was the first step that they took to address the issue of unplanned maintenance. Additive manufacturing gave KLM an advantage that improves lead times across the company. After using it for years, KLM reported that they were extremely satisfied with the 3D printer.
KLM recently purchased our latest machine, the Bolt Pro to further develop their production capabilities. KLM understood that Leapfrog built upon the great foundation laid by the Creatr series and improved upon it. The Bolt Pro has two independent extruders that can print with two materials and the ability to print two identical parts at once. This feature allows KLM to faster deploy their parts and tools across their company. Additionally, the Bolt Pro has the ability to print with high-temperature engineering materials that KLM needs for their operations, which requires parts that are highly durable.
Implementing 3D printing is one of the most cost-effective means of eliminating long lead times in manufacturing. Companies that outsource spare parts face issues in the supply chain which can cause delays. Moving rapid prototyping task in-house at a fraction of the cost of traditional methods like CNC machining adds to the competitive advantage for KLM E&M. Furthermore, having an in-house 3D printer means proprietary designs can remain within the company.
KLM E&M works with over 5000 staff in this field alone, all working on various tasks from prototyping, testing components, and ensuring that all planes are fit for travel. The main goal is to certify quality while keeping costs low. Having more control over the development stages in all key areas means that KLM E&M can provide a complete end to end quality assurance system. This also includes rapid prototyping tasks, where tooling and components need to be designed, built and tested internally without any delays in the company’s operations. 3D printing is a technology that has rapidly developed to achieve those needs.
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