Solukon’s de-powdering technology used in the manufacture of complex aerospace parts

October 1, 2020

Solukon’s Smart Powder Recuperation (SPR), provides programmable pivoting of the parts around two spatial axes (Courtesy Solukon)

Solukon Maschinenbau GmbH, Augsburg, Germany, reports that it is collaborating with LORTEK, Ordizia, Spain, for the depowdering of complex additively manufactured titanium parts developed as part of the FLOWCAASH European project.  

LORTEK, a member of Basque Research & Technology Alliance (BRTA), is the coordinator of several European projects related to metal Additive Manufacturing. One of these is FLOWCAASH, part of the Clean Sky 2 framework with Airbus as the Topic Manager. 

As part of the project, various active flow control actuators have been designed and manufactured at aircraft scale using Laser Beam Powder Bed Fusion (PBF-LB) technology and Ti6Al4V alloy. One of these is the pulsed jet actuator (PJA), a geometrically complex part being relatively large and composed of several channels with abrupt and narrow curvatures. The component is especially suited to being additively manufactured in contrast to conventional methods.

Distortion prediction simulations were performed in order to design the supporting strategy, and find out the best orientation avoiding supports inside the channels which would not be accessible to remove after the build process.

Following the Additive Manufacturing of the parts, the remaining powder must also be removed completely to prevent blocking of the channels caused by the sintering of any remaining powder during a heat treatment stage. This is particularly challenging in the case of the PJA actuator, especially if a manual process is undertaken. 

LORTEK turned to  Solukon, having demonstrated an effective and fast way to remove residual powder. Solukon’s Smart Powder Recuperation (SPR), provides programmable pivoting of the parts around two spatial axes. The adjustable frequency enables the desired optimisation of the powder flow, enabling the cleaning of even the smallest openings and channels, said to be of paramount importance for thermal downstream processes. 

To keep the entire process safe, it can operate under inert conditions. The Solukon de-powdering unit SFM-AT800-S is characterised by a unique drive system that allows parts to be moved along any conceivable path. With the help of intelligent software, the most complex parts can be moved along any complex inner channel and emptied in a safe way.

“Our aim is to give the industry a smart and highly automated and sustainable tool to close the gap between manufacturing and post-processing,” stated Andreas Hartmann co-founder and technical director, Solukon. “The process is fully automated and takes place in a protected and safety-controlled atmosphere, thus avoiding contact with harmful fine powders. 

Hartmann added, “Our Smart Powder Recuperation SPR technology helps to save labour time, ensures that the most stringent demands of health and safety are met, and increases the quality process significantly. At the same time, it reclaims the residual powder without contamination and makes it available for further processing and re-use.”

The PJA actuators are said to present a number of advantages over other active actuators, including being 50% more efficient. In order to replace conventionally manufactured ones, aerodynamic performance and resistance to harsh environments tests are planned to be carried out by the Centro de Tecnologías Aeronáuticas.

Due to the light-weighting of the components, made possible through the use of Additive Manufacturing, other benefits expected in the project include lower fuel and CO2 emissions, as well as a reduction in material waste and scraps.

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