Production of high integrity components in Europe must use smart manufacturing methods to be efficient in use of scarce materials and other resources, and must ensure its environmental impact is minimised. Advanced manufacturing techniques, such as metal powder bed 3D printing, can ensure that production of aerospace parts is carried out with resource efficiency. However, such techniques are today struggling with technical and reliability consistency for use in production.
Metal powder bed “3D printing” (or additive manufacturing) enables the production of metallic parts in a resource efficient manner. Parts, such as aero-engine components, can be designed to give lighter, energy-efficient structures and designers are given freedom beyond the constraints of conventional manufacturing processes.
Electron beam melting (EBM) uses an electron beam to melt powder into 3D printed parts and has been developed in Europe by Arcam, with machines being sold since 2006. Arcam hold a sole position in supplying EBM equipment worldwide and have achieved year-on-year growth of 25% since 2007. Their machines offer solutions to key issues facing European manufacture i.e.
- Many materials are becoming scarce and their efficient use is a priority.
- Energy efficient manufacture is important to conserve resources, lower environmental impact and costs.
At this time, all of the major civil aerospace manufacturers are developing manufacturing procedures using Arcam’s machines.
However, this industry has not yet adopted EBM for production, and reproducibility problems and the lack of a quantified measure for process quality assurance need to be overcome.
The verified design of a plasma cathode electron source will enable high integrity 3D printing of metal parts. Arcam will supply equipment with this technology to large industrial companies for efficient production of parts. The equipment will enable the wider adoption of EBM leading to efficient use of materials – particularly strategic titanium alloys and nickel based super alloys at first.