South Africa In Talks With Boeing, Airbus To Print 3D Titanium Parts

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Written by Dana Sanchez

Boeing and Airbus are in discussions with South African 3D printing group Aeroswift to make titanium aircraft parts using 3D printing technology.

Researchers at South Africa’s government-backed Aeroswift research project are developing the world’s largest titanium powder-based additive manufacturing machine. They produced the first demonstrator parts last year.

South Africa ranks fourth in world for titanium reserves after China, Australia and India, according to the U.S. Geological Survey, Reuters reported.

Access to vast titanium reserves should give South Africa a competitive edge, say researchers with South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR), in partnership with local aerospace firm Aerosud Innovation Centre.

Aerospace, auto and military industries are looking for a cheaper way to make complex parts. Aircraft makers want to replace aluminum bodies with lighter materials such as titanium alloys. The new manufacturing process could save millions of dollars on production and fuel costs, according to Reuters.

From 3DPrintingIndustry. Story by Corey Clarke.

Boeing and Airbus are in discussion with the South African group as Aeroswift advances its 3D printing technology.

Using their machine, Aeroswift has created a number of demonstrator parts including a throttle lever, a condition lever grip for the throttle assembly and a fuel tank pylon bracket.

These parts will be tested in flights this year and, according to the group, the machine is 10 times faster than any other laser melting machine currently available.

Terry Wohlers, of consultancy firm Wohlers Associates, is optimistic about the project.

“It looks like the people at Aerosud and CSIR are on track and 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,” Wohlers said.

Commercial production is expected to begin in 2019.

The large titanium parts are intended to be used in the aerospace industry, where the material is advantageous due to its its favorable strength-to-weight ratio. GE has used additive manufacturing.

British researchers are also looking at how to accelerate and increase the use of 3D printed titanium for the aviation industry.

The Aeroswift project brings together South African aviation manufacturers Aerosud and the South African Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR). South Africa is an appropriate place to base such research with the fourth largest titanium reserves in the world.

“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,” said Hardus Greyling, Aeroswift’s contract coordinator.

Airbus and Boeing are now monitoring Aeroswift, with both companies incorporating 3D printing into their manufacturing processes.

Airbus was an early adopter of 3D printing, with over 1000 additive manufactured parts now on their Airbus A350 XWB aircraft.

The aerospace manufacturing company is in talks with Aeroswift and the South African government.

“How best to commercialize 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 cooperation in Toulouse.

North American company Boeing is also increasing its use of 3D printing technology for aircraft parts.

Boeing has more than 50,000 3D printed parts in flight at the moment, according to Boeing Director Leo Christodoulou. With the Aeroswift project, Boeing may soon be able to implement larger parts for its aircraft.

Read more at 3DPrintingIndustry.


About Dana Sanchez

Dana Sanchez was born in South Africa and is a U.S. citizen. After working in advertising, she went back to school and earned a master's degree in journalism from the University of South Florida. As a business writer, she won regional and national writing awards. As editor of a daily newspaper, she coordinated staff writers, freelancers and photographers in the fast-paced environment of daily news. Dana was an editor at Moguldom Media Group for four years, helping to build and manage a team of staff and freelance writers. She works now on Moguldom.com for Nubai Ventures. A long-distance hiker and cyclist, she writes about the business of technology.