3D Printing

3D Printing is Fit for a King (or a Sultan)

The rise of 3D printing technologies will make cost-effective customization tools available to most people — eventually. However, customisation tends to come at a price, and even more so in the early days of a new technology that makes it possible . The top percentile are going to be the very first to have things made for their own specific needs and, while you and I may need to consider the economics of owning our custom made headphones, and dismiss it as a dream, the people that don’t need to think twice about headphones are dreaming about custom made jumbo jets. Custom Control Concepts (CCC) is the company that makes their dreams come true.

There are perhaps 30 to 40 “personalized” airliners built globally each year. We are talking private planes that cost hundreds of millions of dollars and are used by kings and sultans that care for only one thing: having every possible comfort to make them forget they are flying. Basically these planes are giant yachts in the sky and as such they have all types of amenities, starting with custom made entertainment systems that are fit for a king.

To support such advanced communication and entertainment inside the confined space of an aircraft requires a very complex custom made infrastructure. “There are speakers and cables and Internet connectivity,” explains Ed Lowney, CCC’s VP of Manufacturing. “This means we have 24 ports to work with times 30 different cables, and then we need to connect and position all the hardware, position the touch screens in the walls or set up all the lighting for daytime and nighttime effects.”

For all these activities 3D printing can make a huge difference. CCC uses seven Stratasys Fortus 400mc systems at its main manufacturing plant. “This technology allows us to produce creative and innovative designs not possible with traditional techniques,” says Lowney. “We use Ultem, an aviation grade thermoplastic that has an incredible weight to strength ratio and is heat and flame resistant.”

Custom Control Concepts 3d printing

Additive manufacturing is also a perfect for in-flight-entertainment (IFE) and cabin management systems (CMS) because of its tremendous weight-saving capabilities. “Our new composite speakers – Lowney says – are 55% lighter than our traditionally machined speakers. Not to mention that to produce components at the same rate we are doing now by traditional subtractive means, we would have needed to increase the number of CNC mills we use from 8 to 30.”

According to Lowney 3D printing is giving smaller, streamlined companies such as CCC, which has about 140 employees worldwide, the means to successfully compete against large manufactures like Honeywell. “They cannot adapt rapidly enough to the market’s evolving technologies and this helps us to convey to our customers the perception that we are leading this industry and that we are thinking and acting faster than the industry giants.”

Now the next step in CCC’s growth strategy is to widen the market by targeting helicopters and smaller jets, which are still highly exclusive products but are manufactured by the thousands worldwide. This would imply an exponential growth in the company’s additive manufacturing capabilities and, while it might not mean that we all will be riding on personal jets anytime soon, it is yet more evidence that personalization is going to become the standard of the future.