British finishing services company, South West Metal Finishing has developed a new chemical immersion treatment to enhance the surface of additive manufactured parts.
South West Metal Finishing (SWMF) has been working on the Almbrite process for the last three years and believes it could soon be the first choice of aircraft manufacturers, revolutionising the industry. The Exeter-based company provides surface coatings, including electro and electroless plating, anodising, paint and powder coating and non-destructive testing.
SWMF’s new process is said to greatly improve the finish of components made using additive manufacturing techniques. Almbrite chemically removes the material from each surface to achieve the desired or required final condition.
“We were approached by our clients in the aerospace and defence sectors soon after additive manufacturing started to be used,” said James Bradbury, SWMF’s Lead Researcher. “But one of the challenges regularly mentioned was the poor finish of AM components. They were often rough or porous, with semi-melted powder particles. That can obviously effect the performance of the component which cannot happen when you’re making an aircraft. Safety is paramount.”
Additive manufacturing (AM) is increasingly being incorporated into a range of industries, among them aerospace and defence. The versatility that AM brings in the creating of bespoke designs, one-off prototypes and complex components that cannot be machined, continues to see 3D printing technologies become more widely used. Yet, without the correct finish, these components may fail at early assessment stages, particularly in aerospace where parts are tested and re-tested to breaking point.
“The aerospace industry [has adopted] AM, though it needed time to collate data and carry out stringent tests before it was confident the components could withstand the operating conditions they would be subjected to,” added Bradbury. “Everything had to be tried and tested and then tested again. Now the processes are considered safe enough, they must make sure the finish of these components fulfil the necessary requirements.
“We are taking it to the next level and we believe Almbrite could address many of the issues currently facing those in AM in the aerospace industry.”
SWMF’s Research and Development department began work on the Almbrite project in 2014. The company now believes this finishing process could help double its turnover from £6m to £12m in four years.
“It took us a long time to fully develop Almbrite but we knew, because of the nature of AM, that there was a real need for this type of post processing,” Bradbury finished. “This is a fantastic opportunity for us as a company and for the industry as a whole.”