According to Reuters, researchers at South Africa’s government and Aerosud backed Aeroswift research project are reported to be developing the world’s largest titanium powder-based metal Additive Manufacturing machine.
With a production chamber measuring 2 m by 0.6 m by 0.6 m, Aeroswift’s newly designed AM machine is reported to have achieved production speeds of up to ten times that of currently available commercial laser melting machines. Last year, the machine was used for the first time to produce a pilot’s throttle lever, fuel tank pylon bracket and condition lever grip. These parts are expected to be in test flights later in 2017.
“Our machine is unique and the only one in the world,” stated Hardus Greyling, Contract Co-ordinator. “We have developed new technologies and patents which allows us to upscale the additive process to go significantly faster and significantly larger than other systems.”
The Aeroswift research project was created in 2011, with the aim of boosting South Africa’s economic outlook by leveraging its natural titanium reserves. According to the 2013 US Geological Survey, South Africa’s natural titanium reserves rank fourth in the world behind China, Australia and India.
Airbus, who helped found the project through partnership with South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Boeing, who joined the project in 2013, are reportedly in talks with Aeroswift and the South African government to secure the project’s commercial success.
“How best to commercialise the process is a discussion we are currently having with the Aeroswift partners and relevant government agencies,” said Simon Ward, Airbus’s Vice President for International Co-operation in Toulouse. Terry Wohlers, President of US-based industry consultancy Wohlers Associates, stated that Aeroswift is “making very good progress toward carving out a slice of what is set to become a 3D printing market valued at tens of billions of dollars.”
If successful, Aeroswift’s metal Additive Manufacturing process could save the automotive, aerospace and military industries millions of dollars on fuel and production costs, as aluminium bodies are replaced by lighter titanium alloys.