The 3D printing in metals market has grown at exponential rates over the past five years, companies like Concept Laser, Renishaw, SLM Soltuions, EOS and 3D Systems have been keen to showcase growing sales figures, teams and R&D investment into their technologies.
The one aspect of the technology those companies share is the raw materials; all of the above use powder-based metals to create complex parts and certainly it is metal powder machines that dominate the install-base. However, much like the the plastic 3D printing industry, there's more than one way to skin a cat / build a bracket for an aeroplane and a significant new partnership in a non-powder metal-based additive technology might just elbow its way into that elite metal 3DP crowd.
Norsk Titanium say that their Direct Metal Deposition (DMD) technology lowers production cost by 50% to 75% legacy forging and billet manufacturing techniques due to significantly less waste and machining energy. Using an arc welder and argon gas titanium wire is melted and deposited layer-by-layer much like an FDM plastics machine, the resultant additive part requires little machining to finish and a recent case study by the company claims that Airbus could save approximately $2.3M per plane by implementing the process.
The company has added to its heft by announcing the launch of a Joint Technology and Industrial Cooperation programme with lightweight metals leader Alcoa. To give some scope as to the size of Alcoa, earlier in this month the company announced an agreement with Lockheed Martin to supply materials for the F-35 Joint Strike Fighter in a deal that is worth around $1bn.
Through the programme, the companies will identify and explore cooperation projects to leverage each other’s advanced manufacturing expertise and strong commercial capabilities focused on serving the fast-growing needs of aerospace, defence, energy, automotive and maritime customers.
“We’re thrilled to deepen our relationship with Alcoa through this program, which is focused on advancing the global reach of our game-changing, 3D-printing Direct Metal Deposition technology,” said NTi President & Chief Executive Officer Warren M. Boley, Jr. “Through this cooperation program, we expect to build on our innovative technology capabilities by leveraging Alcoa’s in-depth understanding of lightweight metal components, increase our offerings for aerospace and other end markets, and support our goal of delivering near-net-shape titanium components finished with minimal machining.”
“Through this joint cooperation program, we will bring together Alcoa’s unmatched metallurgical know-how and deep aerospace industry relationships with Norsk Titanium’s 3D-printing technologies, to ultimately accelerate the introduction of advanced manufactured aerospace solutions,” said Eric Roegner, President of Alcoa Titanium and Engineered Products. “This program will further support our efforts to push beyond the limits of today’s additive manufacturing and meet fast-growing demand for 3D-printed aerospace parts.”
In July 2015, RTI International Metals, now Alcoa Titanium and Engineered Products, became a strategic investor in and minority owner of Norsk Titanium. The combination of NTi’s innovative technology with Alcoa’s vertically integrated titanium global supply has significant applications in the titanium closed-die forging market.
Today NTi is producing aerospace-grade titanium components with its fourth generation equipment. Based upon extensive material testing, Norsk Titanium expects to formally conclude the multi-year aviation certification process in the first quarter of 2016 and will begin producing titanium components for customer part qualification in 2016 and commercially producing titanium components for its customers by the second half of 2016.