Three metal aircraft components can now be produced using an advanced 3D printer developed as part of the joint CSIR/Aerosud Innovation Centre project Aeroswift.
The Pretoria headquartered national research and development organisation has teamed up with Aerosud, based at nearby AFB Waterkloof in Centurion, in a project funded by Minister Naledi Pandor’s Department of Science and Technology. The project is, according to the latest Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) annual report, part of South Africa’s national titanium beneficiation strategy which has its main aim to transform the country from being an exporter of raw materials to one that exports semi-finished and finished goods.
Thus far Project Aeroswift has enabled production of a pilot throttle lever, a condition lever grip and a fuel tank pylon bracket using the 3D printing system.
The condition lever grip and throttle grip are used in the locally developed AHRLAC while the fuel pylon bracket is destined for fitting onto a commercial aircraft.
There are some 60 components used by the AHRLAC that have been manufactured using 3D printing technology, including printed metal parts .98% of the Ahrlac’s 6 000 parts was designed and produced locally and since the aircraft was designed on a computer it allows jigless construction, saving cost and time.
“The metal additive manufacturing system uses a laser to melt titanium powder to produce metal parts for the commercial aerospace manufacturing sector.
“The system has the ability to produce geometrically complex parts according to customer specifications, minimising material wastage while processing difficult-to-machine materials. The system can also produce parts for power generation, automotive tooling and for the defence and manufacturing sectors,” the CSIR said.
“During proof-of-concept trails, the machines achieved production speeds up to 10 times faster than currently available commercial laser melting machines.
“Compared to conventional manufacturing technologies which often rely on removal of materials through a machining process to produce a final component, additive manufacturing relies on various energy-depositing technologies to fuse powdered or wire-based materials into 3D functional near-net-shape parts,” the report states.
Aeroswift was launched in January 2012 and was designed to melt titanium, stainless steel and other metal powders into parts up to two metres by .6 by .6 metres in size. The core component of Aeroswift is a 5kW laser that melts thin layers of powder, printing successive layers to form a part. A follow-on project, Umuvi, is designed to create a future-generation high-speed large-area laser additive manufacturing system.
The work done by the CSIR with regard to laser manufacturing has attracted the attention of the world’s largest aircraft manufacturers. Airbus was one of the early partners on Aeroswift but Boeing in June 2013 signed a memorandum of understanding with the CSIR to co-operate on developing ways to use titanium powder in manufacturing processes.
The CSIR hosts the Department of Trade and Industry’s Aerospace Industry Support Initiative (AISI) which aims to assist both the aerospace and defence sectors locally to improve competitiveness, productivity and quality management.
In the 2016/17 financial year, 12 AISA projects benefitted 23 organisations, 15 of which are small, medium and micro-sized enterprises.