Airbus, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR’s) National Laser Centre (NLC) and South African aviation industry leader, Aerosud have signed a collaboration agreement to explore the application of titanium powder-based additive layer manufacturing for fabrication of large and complex aerospace components. This agreement aims to dramatically cut aircraft component production costs through new technology.

Airbus’ Dale King noted that the CSIR and Aerosud are the only organisations in the world doing work on high-speed, large-volume additive laser manufacturing, making them unique. “That is why we have decided to forge a partnership with them [the CSIR and Aerosud],”commented King. “We came to South Africa for this project because we believe the country has the necessary skills and competencies in the field of LAM.”

The construction of a R37-million laser-based prototype machine is expected to be completed mid-2013, and it could produce larger-scale, complex titanium parts at a speed 10 times higher than standard manufacturing, said Beeuwen Gerryts, chief director of South Africa’s Department of Science and Technology (DST). Currently, South Africa is the second largest producer of mined titanium ore. This project would boost the export of semi-finished or finished products in titanium industry and enable the South African industry to improve its global competitiveness and expand its market share.

The ALM process, for which the initial proof-of-concept was completed a few months ago, involved the formation of an object from powder, arranged in layers, and fused by high-speed lasers. The process eliminated the need for bulk machining, cutting and welding, explained NLC operations manager and Aeroswift project coordinator Hardus Greyling.  The consortium would conduct a two-year testing, evaluation and process development phase to determine if the parts could be used in aircraft.