Hype technologies to profoundly change aviation – Hans Heerkens, Platform UCA

Hype technologies to profoundly change aviation – Hans Heerkens, Chairman Platform UCA (PUCA)

Far from the spotlight of the media, technologies are developed that can significantly change aviation – and society- especially when applied jointly. Two of them are 3D printing and quantum computers. Perhaps you do not think of aviation right away. But these technologies can profoundly change aviation, and may have a major impact on tomorrow’s world.

3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, is a technique by which an object is constructed in thin layers, as if a printer does not apply one layer of ink to paper, but layer after layer. The significant advantage is that more and more items can be manufactured wherever and whenever they are needed. This saves time and transport costs. Experiments are already conducted with 3D printing of food. In combination with nanotechnology, which can change properties of materials considerably, the possibilities seem unlimited.

From anywhere to everywhere

For the time being, airlines need not be afraid that the goods they are transporting will be printed where they are required, without need for transport. On the contrary; 3D printing can offer new opportunities for air freight operators. So far, only relatively simple items can be printed. Furthermore, 3D printing can be quite costly and of course requires raw materials. Companies are likely to be less bound to fixed production sites in the future, as the complex supply of raw materials and semi-finished products is made partially unnecessary by 3D printing technology. Manufacturers can more than is possible at present locate in places where there are sufficiently skilled staff, where energy is available, where tax rates are beneficial. This may mean – looking ahead in the future – that production facilities can be far more spread geographically and are less than at present bound to expensive industrial or metropolitan areas. And this in turn means that products that cannot be printed locally or only at high costs have to be sourced elsewhere. These are exactly the products that are suitable for air transport; a high value per unit of weight, perhaps perishable or fragile, and often required on short notice. Think of complicated spare parts of production equipment or refineries. Every hour a production line or oil refinery is offline costs great sums of money. If future 3D printing is used for large-scale production, it is likely that this will concern goods that are currently being transported by means of transport other than aircraft, due to their volume or specific weight. Read more

Hans Heerkens is a speaker at the Unmanned Cargo Aircraft Conference, on November 23, 2017, at Avio Aero, Rivalta di Torino, Italy.

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