3D Printing Titanium in Aerospace Manufacturing Applications
Titanium superalloys are highly beneficial to the aerospace industry, helping companies to reduce their carbon footprint by making planes more fuel-efficient. 3D printing of components constructed from titanium superalloys has become popular in this sector for its convenience, speed, and production of lightweight components.
A recent partnership between Titomic and Ascent Aerospace is likely to further drive 3D printing of titanium in the aerospace industry.
Additive manufacturing (AM) has moved on from producing expensive, one-off prototypes to being adopted to revolutionize entire industries, changing the way their essential products are manufactured. One of the largest adopters of AM is the aerospace industry. Both sectors are being driven by innovation, with developments feeding into each other.
Cutting Aviation Emissions with Lightweight Aircraft
Over the past few years, the cost of implementing AM has significantly reduced, with 3D printers costing roughly $50,000 just several years ago, to being available for around $1,800 today.
Aerospace is under increasing pressure to reduce fuel use to cut costs and reduce its carbon footprint. Each long-haul flight generally produces more carbon emissions than a person is likely to cause in an entire year.
Air travel is increasingly popular, with a 300% growth from 1990 to 2019. With the world scrambling to reduce emissions in a bid to reverse the detrimental impact of climate change, the industry is looking for innovative ways to reduce their carbon footprint.
Reducing the weight of the aircraft is an essential strategy for making flying more fuel-efficient, as lighter planes require less fuel to carry them the same distance. Therefore, research into developing lightweight materials that work just as well or better than current materials has been a focus of technological development in aircraft design.
Titanium superalloys offer the aviation industry an excellent opportunity to reduce the weight of critical components. The material is highly resistant to corrosion, has superior strength to weight ratio, and performs well at extremely high temperatures, making it suitable for use in creating parts for planes.
As a result of switching components of aircraft to those made from titanium, the weight of the craft is lighter, making it more fuel-efficient. Companies in both the aviation and space sectors are shifting from using aluminum alloys to manufacturing aircraft and spacecraft components from titanium alloys.
Switching to Titanium in Aerospace Manufacturing
Using titanium in place of conventional materials has proven to significantly reduce the weight of crucial aircraft components. For example, the average turbine for a jumbo jet weighs roughly 6350 kg. However, the same engine constructed in part from titanium weighs around 340 kg less.
Rolls-Royce has been exploring the potential of using titanium in fan blades and fan cases to reduce the weight of their engines.
The chief engineer at UTC Aerospace Systems, Geoff Hunt, reports that the weight of the landing gear can be reduced by thousands of kilograms by switching to lighter metal alloys such as titanium.
Titanium has also emerged as an incredibly useful material in the space industry, with many vehicles manufactured by NASA being constructed from the material.
3D Printing in the Aerospace Industry
Over recent years, 3D printing in the aerospace industry has rapidly grown in popularity. It is this manufacturing technique that has helped to enhance the reputation and adoptability of titanium manufacturing in the aerospace industry.
The use of titanium in 3D printing is predicted to grow rapidly over the coming years, increasing from a market value of $518 million in 2022 to over $1 billion by 2026. While several markets will be driving this growth, such as the dental and medical sectors, aerospace will also be a major industry adopting titanium manufacturing.
Titanium has many properties that make it beneficial to the aerospace sector. However, its ability to be used in 3D printing is another factor fueling its widespread adoption in aerospace manufacturing.
3D printing is a very advantageous manufacturing technique for aerospace, especially now costs related to set-up and running have significantly reduced. 3D printing can produce one-off items on-site. This means that large production runs are no longer required, so components can be created as and when they are needed, reducing waste and wait times. As they can be printed on-site, not only does this allow the necessary components to be instantly available, it further reduces the emissions related to the industry by removing the need to courier aircraft parts.
Titomic is an Australian company known for leveraging advanced materials and 3D printing technology. It has successfully demonstrated that aircraft components, including the airframe, blades, castings, discs, fastenings, and landing gear, can be manufactured using titanium together with 3D printing.
The aviation industry is the perfect landscape to grow and develop the process of 3D-printing parts. This is because incredibly high safety measures must be met by all parts used in planes, forcing 3D printing to create components to the highest levels of accuracy, reliability, and quality. Approved components manufactured from titanium alloys for the aviation industry are likely to be suitable for use in other sectors that also operate in highly demanding environments.
The Partnership between Titomic and Ascent Aerospace
An agreement was recently signed between Titomic and Ascent Aerospace, a US aerospace and defense tooling and automation provider, to manufacture aerospace tooling using the Titomic Kinetic Fusion method.
Video Credit: Titomic/YouTube.com
The partnership will operate over two phases, the first being the validation phase, where Titomic will use the TKF9000 system to create an approved Invar36 tool for an Ascent customer. The process will undergo testing to determine its feasibility as a process on a larger scale.
The second phase of the project will see Titomic and Ascent devise a joint-sales strategy to supply aerospace tooling in shorter turnaround times.
If successful, the project will likely lead to the growth of 3D printing of titanium components within the aerospace industry, with companies benefitting from shorter lead times, high-quality components, and a reduction in carbon emissions.
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