Boeing and CSIR collaborate on titanium powder manufacturing


Boeing and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) announced today that they will conduct joint research on ways to incorporate titanium powder into industrial manufacturing processes, including aircraft manufacturing.

This mutually beneficial research collaboration supports South Africa’s long-term economic development and could expand the supply of titanium for many industries, including aerospace, Boeing said in a statement.

South Africa, which has the world’s second-largest reserves of titanium ore, has developed and patented technology to convert titanium ore to titanium powder. On June 7, the CSIR launched a titanium pilot plant to further advance titanium powder technology. Aligned with that objective, Boeing and CSIR signed a memorandum of understanding to collaborate on processes that could bring titanium powder-based products to commercial markets on an industrial scale and improve the efficiency of titanium manufacturing, the company said.

Dr William Lyons, Boeing Research & Technology director of Global Technology, said Boeing’s research with CSIR will advance the science of a promising technology. “This research is important to the aviation industry because it will enable us to use titanium powder for manufacturing in ways that reduce energy consumption and waste,” Lyons said.

Dr Willie du Preez, director of the South African Titanium Centre of Competence, hosted by the CSIR, said the collaboration with Boeing will bring value to South Africa. “Boeing’s competencies and experience regarding the applications of titanium in aerospace will hugely benefit CSIR’s drive towards commercialization of titanium technologies,” said Du Preez.

J. Miguel Santos, Boeing International vice president for Africa, said the company is pleased to broaden its relationships in South Africa. “Our research and development agreement with CSIR adds a new dimension to Boeing engagement in South Africa,” Santos said. “We are collaborating to advance South Africa’s development in the aviation industry, which will increase the competitiveness of Boeing products.”

Boeing Research & Technology (BR&T) will oversee the company’s research activity in South Africa. As Boeing’s advanced research and development organization, BR&T is focused on developing future aerospace solutions and improving the cycle time, cost, quality and performance of current aerospace systems. BR&T conducts its own research and works with partners around the world to find technologies that are innovative and affordable.

In September last year it was reported that Airbus, the CSIR and Aerosud had agree to partner on a research project to test the application of titanium powder-based Additive layer Manufacturing (ALM) for the fabrication of large and complex aerospace components.

ALM promises to be faster and cheaper than conventional manufacturing processes.

The partnership made provision for Airbus, supported by EADS Innovation Works, to cooperate with Aerosud and the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research’s (CSIR’s) National Laser Centre (NLC) and test and evaluate this new approach as it is applied to producing larger-scale titanium parts.
“ALM involves forming an object from powder, which is arranged in layers and fused by high-speed lasers. It is a process completely devoid of bulk machining, cutting and welding thereby minimizing waste and optimizing the manufacturing process. It’s like printing in 3D,” explained the CSIR’s Hardus Greyling, project coordinator of project Aeroswift at the CSIR.

Aerosud and the CSIR NLC have been developing the innovative ALM approach under the Department of Science & Technology-funded Aeroswift project. Initial proof-of-concept studies were carried out mid-2012 and based on the results a decision was made to construct a full scale prototype system to demonstrate the technology.

The heart of Aeroswift is the NLC’s new 5 kW IPG single-fibre diode laser. The CSIR NLC has already, in its proof of concept trials, achieved production speeds 8.3 times greater than currently available commercial selective laser melting machines. The proof of concept trials involved the production of small parts, no longer than 50 cm. With Aeroswift, the aim is to produce parts as big as 2 x 0.5 metres.

The project is central to South Africa’s national titanium beneficiation strategy, which aims to transform the country from an exporter of raw materials to an exporter of semi-finished or finished goods, which can be sold at a premium compared with the material in its raw state. South Africa has spent over R200 million since 2006 on the titanium beneficiation programme, including the ALM project.

Current manufacturing relies on traditional milling and machining where components are cut and carved out of a metal billet, a process that typically sees up to 95 percent of expensive raw material going to waste. In contrast, the ALM technique minimizes material wastage by building up a component from powder, with the optimal amount of material being consumed in the process. Any powder left over can be dusted off and used again. The potential cost savings in raw materials could potentially amount to millions of dollars on every jetliner built. In addition, the weight savings are likely to result in significant cost savings and reduced emissions through lower fuel consumption.