The greatest stimulus to the titanium industry has been the meteoric rise of 3D printing, or additive manufacturing (AM). AM is extending rapidly to embrace a wide range of products made of an increasing number of materials, including nano-materials such as the super-strong graphene.
By James Chater
AM technology is now thought to be capable of ‘printing’ all the parts of the human body and is even starting to be used in house construction. Needless to say, makers of aircraft, cars and prosthetic and dental products are hard at work exploring the opportunities that AM offers.
At the forefront of AM activities is GE’s aviation division. In order to enhance its AM activities, GE has acquired Concept Laser and Arcam, which is building an AM facility in Montreal, Canada. GE’s LEAP-1C jet engine, which has just received US and European approval, features 3D-printed fuel nozzles for the GE9X engine that will be used in Boeing’s new 777X aircraft. The LEAP-1C’s low pressure turbine also features 3D-woven carbon fibre composite (CFC) fan blades, while its high-pressure (hot) turbine uses ceramic matrix composite (CMC) shrouds.
“AM technology is now thought to be capable of ‘printing’ all the parts of the human body and is even starting to be used in house construction. Needless to say, makers of aircraft, cars and prosthetic and dental products are hard at work exploring the opportunities that AM offers.”
A significant development is that aircraft-grade CFCs can now be 3D-printed, thanks to research undertaken by the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory. Since CFCs, the main material used in aircraft bodies, are uniquely compatible with titanium, this development is likely to be bullish for titanium use in aircraft.
Industrial-academic research partnerships are multiplying: NASA has made a grant to the University of Pittsburgh for research into 3D printed parts, while a similar project was launched by Canada’s Southern Ontario Network for Advanced Manufacturing and Innovation.
Norsk Titanium has entered into collaboration with Clarkson University, New York, to develop Norsk’s Rapid Plasma Deposition™ process. Swiss technology company Oerlikon is strengthening its metal AM activities through research partnerships with the Technical University of Munich and Skoltech in Russia. It is also building a factory in Plymouth Township, Michigan, USA, which will develop powder technology and titanium and other alloys and build an AM hub in North Carolina.
Certain countries are rapidly investing in AM. The UK’s FAST-forge partnership brings together Metalysis, Safran Landing Systems and the Universities of Sheffield and Strathclyde round an innovative titanium powder manufacturing process. The UK government is investing in AM, including Sheffield’s Manufacturing Innovation District, while London will set up the country’s largest 3D printing facility in Silvertown in East London.
In Australia, researchers at Deakin University have developed a way to manufacture a Boron Nitride Nanotube (BNNT)/titanium composite that is ultra-light and super-strong and could be used in the aerospace, automotive, power, armaments and medical industries. In India, Intech DMLS has 3D printed the country’s first jet engine.
This post is part of an article that was fully published in 3D fab+print magazine May/June. Part 1 was previously published online and the third and final part will appear online in week 31. Don’t want to miss a thing? Subscribe to the 3D fab+print newsletter and receive new articles in your inbox weekly.