Amalgam and Zodiac team.
Zodiac Seats UK, global frontrunner in the production of first and business class aircraft seats, found itself turning to 3D printing for the rapid production of high-quality, exhibition models for its new Z500 and Z600 models set to go on show at the aircraft interiors event, AIX Hamburg.
Keen to avoid any horror stories of seats being pulled from exhibition stands or less-than-perfect mock ups, the company turned to Amalgam, a UK based model making company with over 30 years of model making experience and an arsenal of rapid manufacturing technologies that would see the seats shipped in time for lift off.
“3D printing was the only possible way to produce the huge number and variety of components needed for this job in the timescale,” explained Mike Harvey, Director, Amalgam. “Smaller parts were Objet printed, some then being given a metal skin for both appearance and strength. Most of the larger panels were printed in SLS Nylon for strength and hand finished to a high standard.”
Rising to the challenge, the parts were redesigned to fit each process in collaboration with Zodiac’s CAD design team and a total of 100 SLS 3D printed parts were sourced from three suppliers to bring the products together in record time at Amalgam’s workshop. 10-12 parts per seat were manufactured using Objet technology whilst the more traditional, subtractive CNC machining process was also a key performer.
Mike commented: “The great advantage that 3D printing gave us was the comparative ease with which the designs, which in some cases were evolving as we worked, could be revised and updated without having to start over. In a couple of cases the 3D prints revealed previously undiscovered issues which led to on-the-fly revisions and second iteration components being incorporated into the design – no doubt these will be fed back into the final production items.”
One palpable question raised by this project was: are these models prototypes or exhibition models? One may wonder if there is a distinction, but there are discrete differences between the two with the pivotal reason being a prototype is typically a developmental tool whereas an exhibition model needs to closely resemble the production item whilst not being produced using mass production methods. It’s not meant to replicate how the product will be made in real life but these are still complex, tactile models with buttons, doors and moveable parts that must be robust enough to withstand the general wear and tear of a busy trade show floor.
Finished Z 500 seats.
Mike explained: “In order to best achieve this it is therefore vital that materials used and engineering solutions relied upon are thoroughly tested well before the model is finally assembled.”
The amalgamation of traditional and contemporary processes proves that even with 3D printing, the art of model making, in a conventional sense, hasn’t been lost but rather is now a complementary foundation for the advent of these rapid technologies to enable the generation of more complex models, faster then ever before.
Mike added: “Amalgam is not just another service bureaux, we are a proper “old school” model maker that has embraced 21st century processes and adapted our approach to take full advantage of all they offer without compromising on the more traditional skills.”