Utilizing recycled PET bottles on aircraft
No vehicle has safety standards as strict as aircraft. Since an even minor failure can lead to a fatal accident, long-term strict inspections by local laws and authorities, and international quality control standards are imposed on the components that make up aircraft and the materials that make up those components.
The Dutch airline KLM has begun efforts to utilize 3D printers for the maintenance parts of the aircraft, and surprisingly, the material is recycled PET bottles.
Just the same as a normal printer uses ink, 3D printers use a tube-shaped plastic called “filament” to print. The filament possesses a property to be softer when heated and be harder when cooled, and 3D printers stack layers of melted filament little by little to build an object.
KLM used to purchase the filament from external suppliers. However, the company decided to deliver empty PET bottles to a recycling company and exchange them with high-quality plastic pellets, which are the raw material in filament. In fact, this filament is recycled from PET bottles that are taken off aircraft at Amsterdam Airport Schiphol every year.
KLM Engineering & Maintenance, which is a group company of KLM and maintains the aircraft , has been using 3D printers for a long time to speed up the repair and maintenance processes. For example, with using 3D printers, the company has made a cover as a substitute for disposable protective tape, special plugs to prevent tire rim holes from being painted when the wheels on aircraft are painted, and engine service tools for removing luggage racks.
The company, in cooperation with recyclers and filament manufacturers, has also succeeded in reducing the production cost of filaments per kilogram from €60 (about 7,300 yen) to €17 (about 2,000 yen). They established a sustainable cycle.
KLM aims to reduce its production of residual waste in 2030 by 50% compared to 2011 by reducing the total amount of waste and increasing the amount that can be recycled.In 2018, KLM reduced waste by 9% compared to 2011 and recycled 28% of waste.
The company will be continuously investing in sustainable and innovative technology development. Depending on the development of technology, the day when airplanes made of recycled PET bottles are flying in the sky may come in the future.