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New 3D printing initiatives in Dubai- pedestrian bridges and bus stops, aircraft parts

Above photo: Abdul Reda Abul Hassan, Executive Director of Rail Projects Planning & Development at the Rails Agency and Chair of the Dubai 3D Printing Strategy Implementation Committee at the RTA/ Credit: Dubai Government media office

The committee responsible for the implementation of Dubai 3D Printing Strategy at the Roads & Transport Authority (RTA) has launched new 3D printing initiatives geared towards implementing various RTA projects using this high technology. The move is part of the ‘Smart City’ initiative of the Dubai Government.

The ‘Dubai 3D Printing Strategy’ aims to make Dubai a leading hub of 3D printing technology by 2030. One of its targets is to have 25% of Dubai’s buildings 3D-printed by 2030. The Strategy expects to reduce labour by 70%, cost by 90%, and time by 80% in the different sectors, including construction, medical products (3D printed teeth, bones, artificial organs and medical and surgical devices and hearing aids) and consumer products (household items, optics, fashion jewellery, children’s games and fast food).

The RTA intends to use 3D printing technology for a range of projects such as a pedestrian bridge, bus stop, and marine transport station. Abdul Reda Abul Hassan, Executive Director of Rail Projects Planning & Development at the Rails Agency and Chair of the Dubai 3D Printing Strategy Implementation Committee at the RTA, said, "Using 3D printing technology in implementing these projects will help developing innovative methods capable of contributing effectively to promoting Dubai as the smartest city; a global hub for tourists, visitors, investors and businessmen and a leading financial, tourism and service centre in the world.”

“The 3D printing technology is advancing at a rapid pace across the world and RTA is strongly inclined to be a forerunner in this generation of technology. It seeks to optimally utilize the technology by applying the world’s best practices of public transport industry and associated infrastructure,” he added.

In March this year, the Dubai Electricity & Water Authority (DEWA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on March 27 with GE Additive to collaborate on 3D printing, additive manufacturing and digital technologies for the forthcoming ‘Industrial Internet’.

The Dubai Health Authority is has been utilising 3D printing in medical care. In September, the Dubai Health Authority (DHA) announced that doctors had saved the life of a sixty-year-old Omani woman who suffered from a cerebral aneurysm, with assistance from a state-of-the-art custom 3D-printed model of the patient’s brain dilated arteries to help plan the complex surgery.

Due to the complexity and rarity of the patient’s case the doctors needed a 3D model that would allow them to understand exactly how to reach the arteries in a safe manner. Without the 3D model the surgery would have taken longer and the risk would have been higher.

Last December, DHA’s doctors successfully removed a tumour from a patient’s kidney with the help of a custom 3D-printed organ to help plan the surgery. A Dubai resident recently received the region’s first-ever fully 3D-printed prosthetic leg, an innovation that could reduce the prices of prosthetics by 50%. 

3D printing of aircraft parts by Emirates 

Emirates (the airline is a subsidiary of The Emirates Group, which is wholly owned by the government of Dubai's Investment Corporation of Dubai) has announced the use of cutting-edge 3D printing technology to manufacture components for its aircraft cabins. The airline is using Selective Laser Sintering (SLS), a new and innovative 3D printing technique to produce video monitor shrouds. Recently Emirates also completed 3D printing, certification and installation of aircraft cabin air vent grills for onboard trials.

Emirates has worked with 3D Systems, a US based 3D printing equipment and material manufacturer and services provider, and UUDS, a European aviation Engineering and Certification Office and Services Provider based in France, to successfully print the first batch of 3D printed video monitor shrouds using 3D Systems’ Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) technology platform. 

This technology uses lasers to bind together powdered plastic into the required shape defined by a 3D model, as opposed to laying material in layers in the Fusion Deposition Modelling (FDM) technique, which is normally used for printing aircraft 3D parts.

The material used to print Emirates’ Video Monitor Shrouds is a new thermoplastic developed by 3D Systems - Duraform® ProX® FR1200 - with excellent flammability resistance properties and surface quality suitable for commercial aerospace business applications.

One of the major advantages of using the SLS technique is the reduced weight of printed components combined with optimisation of the strength of the parts produced. Video monitor shrouds that are 3D printed using the SLS technique can weigh between 9% and 13% lighter than components manufactured traditionally or through the FDM technique. This could potentially enable significant reductions in fuel emissions and costs when consolidated over the entire fleet of Emirates aircraft. 

Additionally, with the SLS technique it is possible to print more than one component at a time when compared with other 3D printing methods. This leads to quicker per-part production times and lesser wastage of raw materials used for production. 

Emirates’ 3D printed video monitor shrouds have undergone a range of structural, durability, flammability and chemical tests and are also in the process of receiving EASA certification for airworthiness for aircraft interior cabin parts. On receiving EASA certification the video monitor shrouds will be installed on select aircraft in the Emirates fleet and will be tracked over the following months for data collection as part of tests for on board durability and wear and tear. 

Emirates has also worked with UUDS to develop 3D printed aircraft cabin air vent grills that have received EASA certification and have already been installed on aircraft for onboard trials in late October 2017. 

Ahmed Safa, Emirates Senior Vice President- Engineering Support Services said, “The technology we use has the potential to deliver cabin parts with reduced weight without compromising on structural integrity or cosmetic appeal.”

Using 3D printing will also enable Emirates to conduct more efficient inventory management for thousands of aircraft cabin interior components. With the airline being able to print components on demand within a smaller timeframe, it will no longer have to hold a large inventory of spare components or have to go through long wait times for replacement components. 

Emirates will evaluate the performance and durability of the 3D printed air vent grills and video monitor shrouds before further roll out across its fleet. The airline will also continue to pursue other opportunities for introducing 3D printed components across its operations. 

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