A manufacturing research pact among Airbus, aerostructure manufacturer Aerosud, and the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), reportedly aims to develop the biggest, fastest 3D printer possible for making titanium aircraft and satellite components.
Airbus' entrance into the agreement is for testing the viability of components made with the process. The project, called Aeroswift, actually began earlier this year when Aerosud and the South African CSIR's National Laser Centre agreed to work together to slash the production costs of aerospace components using laser additive manufacturing (LAM), another name for selective laser sintering (SLS). It focuses on using titanium powders for the production of large, complex components.
Airbus, aerostructure manufacturer Aerosud, and the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, are partnering to develop the biggest, fastest 3D printer possible for making titanium aircraft and satellite components. Shown here, the Airbus A380 demonstrator aircraft arrives at the 2012 Farnborough International Airport. (Source: Airbus)
According to a CSIR press release, at the announcement of this partnership in Johannesburg, Airbus's Dale King said the CSIR and Aerosud are the only organizations doing work on high-speed, large-volume additive laser manufacturing. "That is why we have decided to forge a partnership with them [the CSIR and Aerosud]," King is quoted as saying. "We came to South Africa for this project because we believe the country has the necessary skills and competencies in the field of LAM."
A prototype LAM system will be completed by mid 2013, and is expected to produce large, complex parts at a rate 10 times faster than traditional manufacturing methods, said Beeuwen Gerryts, chief director of South Africa's Department of Science and Technology, in a September 14 press release. The Department has been championing the development of a broad titanium industry in South Africa, from mining the raw mineral, to producing metal powder, all the way to forming components. South Africa is currently the second largest supplier of titanium ore, but does not export semi-finished or finished titanium products.
The consortium expects to conduct two years of testing, evaluation, and process development to determine whether the parts can be used in aircraft. "The signing of this collaboration agreement represents a major step in ensuring that we develop laser additive manufacturing (LAM) technologies with inputs from our industry partners to make sure that these technologies are relevant when they are commercialised," Dr. Ndumiso Cingo, manager of the National Laser Centre, is quoted as saying in the CSIR press release.
Titanium has been used for several years in the manufacturing of aircraft components, primarily via machining. Earlier this year, Dynamet Technology received a milestone qualification approval from Boeing for supplying Ti-6Al-4V alloy products created with powder metals for structural components on commercial aircraft. Dynamet's process produces PM titanium in basic shapes and near-net shape forms by combining cold consolidation of blended elemental titanium, and alloy powders with vacuum sintering.
Ann, this is interesting news. One question I would have is on the strength of the materials. In general, machined materials are stronger than injection molded materials. Of course, if the strength is enough for the purpose, then that is enough. Then the speed of manufactur is all important.
Lou, the strength of the PM/sintered titanium powder metal parts produced by Dynamet has received approval from Boeing for use in structural aircraft parts, after a few years of testing. That news is pretty amazing on its own. The fact that Airbus has signed on to the Aeroswift aircraft structures project to help test selective laser-sintered titanium parts is another vote of confidence. It will be interesting to see what happens during that test phase.
@naperlou: Selective laser sintering typically doesn't yield a fully-dense part, so the mechanical properties would be significantly inferior to those of a forging. On the other hand, it has been shown that selective laser sintering followed by hot isostatic pressing can give mechanical properties equivalent to conventionally-processed titanium.
It seems like a good move for South Africa to go from an exporter of raw materials to a manufacturer of high-tech components. Other developing countries could benefit from this example.
Chuck, I looked all over for build volume and printer size with no luck. The only clue is that it's designed to build components of large aircraft structures. I'm guessing several feet per side of build volume. Very large 3D printers exist in architectural apps for use with sand and soil and their build volumes can be 2m x 2m x 5m up to 6m x 6m x 2m, and even larger in the works.
Ann - thanks for offering the large size baths that are still being developed. I had no idea that 3D makers were developing apparatus that large. 6 meters square-? That's enormous. That's about 50 feet across diagonal; large enough to make a wingspan frame. Wow.
Jim, the architectural apps are for buildings. If you google "3D printed buildings" you'll find several different versions. Unless you want to make airplanes out of sand and cement, there's no relationship in products. But figuring out to make larger build volumes is, to some extent, a generic 3D printing problem, which is why I mentioned the larger build volumes of the architectural apps.
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