A collaboration agreement signed between Airbus, the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR's) National Laser Centre (NLC) and aerostructure manufacturer Aerosud on Thursday would see the group test the viability of titanium powder-based additive layer manufacturing (ALM) for the fabrication of large and complex aerospace components.
The Aeroswift project comprised the construction of a R37-million laser-based prototype machine, which was expected to be completed mid-2013, to produce larger-scale, complex titanium parts at a speed ten times higher than standard manufacturing, said Department of Science and Technology (DST) chief director Beeuwen Gerryts.
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 prototype was expected to be complete in March, after which the consortium would embark on a two-year testing, evaluation and process development phase, which would determine the viability of using the parts in aircraft. The CSIR noted that an additional unspecified amount of funding would be required during this phase.
The DST-funded project, if successful, could significantly reduce manufacturing costs and minimise material waste. Current, traditional manufacturing processes waste about 95% of costly raw materials.
“The potential cost savings in raw materials could potentially amount to millions of dollars on every jetliner built,” Gerryts commented.
It would also boost the country’s titanium beneficiation, he added, pointing out that the project would align with South Africa’s national beneficiation strategy, which aimed to ensure the export of semi-finished or finished products instead of the raw materials.