Dutch 3D printer manufacturer, Leapfrog, has unveiled how KLM Engineering and Maintenance is adopting its technology to produce new designs and tooling.
The Dutch airline first installed one of Leapfrog’s early Creatr printers five years ago to improve lead times for internal tooling and to produce cabin component prototypes before going into production. To expand its production capabilities, the company recently purchased the Leapfrog Bolt Pro, a plastic extrusion-based desktop system featuring two extruders which enable two identical parts to be built simultaneously. Designed for industrial applications, the machine also has the ability to print with high-temperature engineering materials, ideal for prototyping aircraft components.
Maarten Ottevanger, Process Engineer at KLM said, “I certainly recommend the Bolt Pro because of its rigidity, its large print bed and the two print heads which double the print speed once more similar parts are needed. I think the Leapfrog Bolt Pro is very suitable for engineering and prototyping and even producing small series of plastic parts.”
3D printing is already being widely implemented across the aircraft maintenance, repair and overhaul (MRO) industry with airlines like Emirates, Etihad, Lufthansa and more adopting the technology into their engineering departments to reduce costly lead times. The standard passenger plane has over 30,000 components which, according to KLM, typically results in around 50% of unplanned repairs annually. To tackle this, airlines currently have a large inventory of spare parts but that can often lead to delays if a part isn’t immediately available or has become obsolete. 3D printing certain components or tooling in-house gives manufacturers the ability to quickly manufacture parts close to the point of need without the need for a huge inventory or risk of delays.
In addition to lowering tooling and prototyping costs and lead times, KLM says having 3D printing capabilities in-house, compared to outsourcing, is enabling the airline keep proprietary designs within the company, and have more control over its end-to-end quality assurance.