We are part of a European consortium improving the efficiency of aircraft maintenance and repair processes through the integration of health management capabilities with additive manufacturing (AM), otherwise known as 3D printing.

Key facts

    • We are part of a consortium of 12 partners, including Boeing and Lufthansa Technik, in the three-year RepAIR project which completed in June 2016.

    • We have been performing research on future repair and maintenance for the aerospace industry, focusing on the onsite maintenance and repair of aircraft by integrated direct digital manufacturing.

    • Our research has focused on health condition monitoring (with a physics-based model approach), repair and manufacture through additive manufacturing, and certification (quality assurance and quality procedures necessary to certify the technology, AM, for the aerospace industry).

    • We received £800,000 of the £4.9 million total funding.

  • Funded by European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programme (FP7).
RepAIR test rig at Cranfield

Impact of our research

We are improving the efficiency of aircraft maintenance and repair through the integration of health management capabilities with additive manufacturing (AM), also known as 3D printing. The goal is to minimise the impact of maintenance operations on fleet availability by allowing operators and maintainers to produce parts in situ, avoiding shipping and logistic delays.

Significant cost savings, reduced turnaround time and reduced scrap could be realised both in the repair and maintenance of complex components of future data-centric aircrafts by integrating health monitoring technology with AM technology. The new hybrid capability shifts the choice to ‘make or buy’ spare parts from suppliers, to the ‘make’ decision using AM in-house.

A novel qualification procedure for AM in the aerospace sector has been developed in collaboration with another research centre (AIMME, a metal-processing technology institute in Spain). General procedures, operational instructions and control procedures during the manufacturing process have been developed in accordance with quality assurance and quality management procedures in the aerospace sector.

RepAIR test rig diagram

Why the research was commissioned

European aircraft maintenance service providers have to deal with enormous financial pressure from carriers and logistics companies. This is due to airlines focusing intensively on the low cost of repair services and materials while retaining consistent parts and service quality.

In comparison to Asia and the Middle East, European maintenance service providers have to compensate their salary cost disadvantage of 30% with knowledge and technological lead in this labour-intensive industry.

Why Cranfield?

Our Integrated Vehicle Health Management (IVHM) Centre has developed a mature research programme, comprising more than 35 projects, since 2008.

This has provided customers and stakeholders with substantial returns in terms of minimised maintenance action / time; enhanced operational awareness; reduced inspections and troubleshooting; more efficient logistics operations; and reduced schedule interruptions, among others.

The IVHM Centre has co-ordinated all the efforts on certification of the combined health management and AM technology. This has included condition monitoring tools, as well as manufacturing processes and machines.

Facilities used

A custom-made transmission test rig.