Additive manufacturing and materials a prime focus for GKN Aerospace

  • 29-Apr-2015 01:20 EDT
GKN additive materials.jpg

Operation of the EBM machine to produce a solid metal part from powder.

GKN Aerospace recently announced two collaborative research projects related to the advancement of additive manufacturing (AM) within the aerospace industry. One is a three-year, GBP3.1m (about $4.74 million) program to develop titanium powder specifically formulated and blended for AM of aerospace components. The program, called TiPOW (Titanium Powder for net-shape component manufacture), will also develop the techniques and equipment to produce the powder consistently, in quantity, and at a lower price than today’s material.

The second announcement is a joint technology development partnership that GKN Aerospace has formed with AM specialist Arcam AB to develop and industrialize a promising new additive process, electron beam melting (EBM), in which metal components are built up, layer-by-layer, using a metal powder that is melted by an electron beam. The process produces very precise, complex, small- to medium-sized components that require very little finishing, the companies claim.

The TiPOW program is backed by the U.K.’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) and Innovate UK. Consortium partners include Phoenix Scientific Industries Ltd., Metalysis, and the University of Leeds. The GKN Powder Metallurgy division is providing expertise in metal powders and precision engineered components.

The companies note that currently used alloys and powders have not been specifically developed for AM processes and therefore are not optimized for this environment. The partners will investigate developing titanium alloys and powders with characteristics specifically suited to AM. They also plan to define the production methods that will produce AM-designed materials to ensure cost is minimized while ensuring production quality, quantity, and consistency. The effective reuse and recycling of titanium material, and a study of potential applications for the recycled material, also will be explored.

“To date, research into AM has focused largely on evolving the processes we will require to enter full-scale production, but if these processes are to make a significant breakthrough, the quality, repeatability, and cost of the material we use will be critical,” said Russ Dunn, Senior Vice President Engineering & Technology.

The TiPOW program will run alongside another GKN Aerospace-led, ATI-supported program called Horizon (AM), which aims to take several promising AM techniques through to viable production processes. Five dedicated AM development centers have been established in North America and Europe, each focused on progressing specific additive processes and technologies.

“We believe AM has the potential to revolutionize the design and manufacture of aircraft, unlocking innovations in low drag, high-performance wing designs and lighter, even more efficient engine systems that will dramatically improve airframe performance and reduce noxious emissions and noise,” said Dunn.

As part of its agreement with Arcam, GKN Aerospace has ordered two Arcam Q20 EBM machines for installation at GKN Aerospace’s Bristol, U.K., AM center. The Arcam Q20 is designed to manufacture a range of aerospace-related components such as turbine blades and structural airframe components. A build envelope of 350 x 380 mm (13.8 x 15.0 in) allows for building large components and stacking of smaller ones.

Engineers from both companies will work together to create the next generation of EBM equipment, able to manufacture complex titanium structures at higher volumes.

“We have been working with Arcam for some time exploring what we believe to be one of the most promising of the additive processes,” said Dunn. “Our aim has been to fully understand how EBM can be applied to our future aerostructures and aero engines portfolio. Through this new strategic partnership with Arcam, our combined additive manufacturing teams will now take the next steps towards fully industrializing this AM technology.”

The companies believe that additive processes have “huge potential” in the aerospace sector, to satisfy the need to manufacture at greater speeds components that are lightweight and cost-effective, and that generate less waste and lower emissions.

“We believe the array of processes that fall under the ‘additive’ umbrella will revolutionize manufacturing across every industrial sector, particularly in aerospace where cost, weight, and performance are critical,” Dunn added.

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