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)
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.
How 3D printing fits into the digital thread, and the relationship between its uses for prototyping and for manufacturing, was the subject of a talk by Proto Labs' Rich Baker at last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis.
How can automakers, aerospace contractors, and other OEMs get new metal alloys that are stronger, harder, and can survive ever higher temperatures? One way is to redesign their crystalline structures at the nanoscale and microscale.
Although a lot of the excitement about 3D printing and additive manufacturing surrounds its ability to make end-products and functional prototypes, some often ignored applications are the big improvements that can come by using it for tooling, jigs, and fixtures.
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