Airbus secures metal 3D printing powder
Canadian GE Additive company to supply high-quality titanium Metal Tech News - December 8, 2021
Last updated 12/21/2021 at 2:30pm
Canada-based AP&C has signed a deal to supply Airbus with titanium powders for 3D printing, a technology that is gaining traction for manufacturing lighter, more durable, and uniquely designed parts for the aerospace industry.
AP&C is the metal powder company for GE Additive, a division of the famed multinational energy corporation that sees metal 3D printing as a pioneering process with the potential to transform businesses.
Often referred to as metal additive manufacturing when applied at the industrial scale, metal 3D printing is shaping up to be especially transformative for aerospace businesses such as Airbus.
Metal additive manufacturing offers some intriguing advantages for the aerospace sector. This includes the ability to print high-tech metal into complicated shapes that would be impossible with traditional casting and metalworking techniques. This ability allows some complex jet engine parts that would normally need to be manufactured separately and then joined to be printed in one solid piece – improving performance and reliability.
Metal 3D printing also significantly reduces the time and costs for research and development, and then the scale-up of manufacturing of a new part.
"One of the advantages is that new parts can be virtually designed, printed on site and then tested – all in a very short time span," according to Airbus.
Due to the gravity of a parts failure at 20,000 feet, aerospace is a highly regulated sector that requires dependable parts made from high-quality materials. The latter is where AP&C comes in.
Using a proprietary plasma atomization process, which involves using plasma torches to melt and atomize metal wire, AP&C produces high-purity metal powders that are customized to meet customer needs.
"It's our mission to provide a secure supply chain of high-quality powder and to participate in the advancements of our customers' additive manufacturing journey to build competitive and innovative parts," according to the Canada-based company.
And when it comes to aerospace, titanium offers a unique combination of attributes that make it the metal of choice for many applications.
"Titanium metal's combination of corrosion resistance, excellent weight-to-strength ratio, and very high melting point is not found with other metals," the United States Geological Survey penned in a report on titanium.
In addition to being lightweight and strong on its own, titanium alloys with aluminum, iron, nickel, molybdenum, vanadium, and other metals that are used for the airframes, landing gear, and other components of many commercial and military aircraft.
More information on titanium and its uses can be read at Titanium demand drivers are in whitening in the Critical Minerals Alliances magazine published by Data Mine North earlier this year.
Under a new multiyear agreement, AP&C will be providing Airbus with a specialized titanium alloy known as Ti-6Al-4V, which is 90% titanium, 6% aluminum, and 4% vanadium.
This powder is one of more than a dozen titanium, aluminum, and nickel alloy powders produced by AP&C. The company's product line includes titanium aluminide – 48% titanium, 48% aluminum, 2% chromium, and 2% neodymium – a new class of aerospace alloys that compete with nickel superalloys for the fabrication of aircraft engine parts such as low-pressure turbine blades.
AP&C's two manufacturing facilities in Quebec have the capacity to produce more than 1,000 tons of these high-quality 3D printing powders per year as the company endeavors to stay ahead of growing demand.
"The adoption of metal additive technology in aerospace continues to gather momentum. And one of the challenges of matching that pace in a highly regulated industry like aerospace, is building a robust supply chain that can meet both the industry standard for conventionally and additively manufactured parts, but also add value," said AP&C CEO Alain Dupont.
To keep pace, the company is continually investing into the plasma atomization technology that allows it to produce new powders at lower costs while maintaining the high quality required by innovative aerospace companies utilizing metal additive manufacturing technologies.
AP&C says this titanium powder supply contract with Airbus continues a working relationship with the European aerospace company that goes back several years.
"Our approach is to be more than just a supplier of metal powders to our customers. To scale metal additive manufacturing, acceleration can only be achieved by sharing knowledge and best practice to lower risk and increase stability," Dupont added. "One way we have supported Airbus in recent years, for example, has been to help its in-house additive manufacturing team establish its own methods and processes to qualify powders."
Which will become increasingly important as Airbus and others identify new titanium and other metal alloy air and spacecraft parts that can be better made with 3D printing technology.