ALUMINIUM giant Alcoa has opened a new 3D printing metal powder production facility at the Alcoa Technology Centre in Pittsburgh, US.
The US$60m plant will make titanium, nickel and aluminium powders optimised specifically for use in the 3D printing of parts for the aerospace industry. At present, such powders are available only in very limited quantities. In April, Alcoa signed a deal with Airbus to supply the aircraft manufacturer with 3D printed titanium fuselage and engine pylon parts. The first deliveries will be made later this year.
Alcoa is an alloy expert and invented many of the aluminium alloys currently in use in the aerospace industry, as well as making aluminium powders for a variety of uses including rocket fuel and paint. The company is currently developing its Ampliforge process, in which a part can be 3D printed and then treated further using conventional methods such as forging, or hot isostatic pressing (HIT), where the part is exposed to high temperatures and pressures. Parts made using a conventional 3D printed process with metal powders are typically quite brittle. Forging or HIT increases the toughness and strength. In addition, the process uses much less metal than traditional part manufacturing techniques which involve milling or machining away material.
“Alcoa is forging a leadership path in additive manufacturing with a sharp focus on the critical input material – metal powders. We are combining our expertise in metallurgy, manufacturing, design and product qualification to push beyond the possibilities of today’s 3D printing technologies for aerospace and other growth markets,” said Alcoa CEO Klaus Kleinfeld.
The 3D printing metal powder plant will become part of Arconic, when Alcoa splits in two later this year. The Alcoa brand will retain the upstream assets in bauxite, alumina, aluminium, casting and energy, while Arconic will be a standalone innovation and value-add company specialising in high performance, multi-material products.
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