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Arconic's new titanium bracket is installed on a pylon on a series production version of the A350 XWB, Airbus’ newest widebody commercial aircraft.

Arconic and Airbus cooperate on 3D printing research

Arconic and Airbus recently announced a multi-year cooperative research agreement to advance metal 3D printing for aircraft manufacturing. Together, the companies will develop customized processes and parameters to produce and qualify large, structural 3D printed components, such as pylon spars and rib structures, up to approximately 1 m in length. Arconic plans to combine its expertise in metal additive manufacturing and metallurgy with Airbus’s design and qualification capabilities, while leveraging its past experience with regulatory agencies for certification.

Through the agreement—which was announced at the Formnext additive and advanced manufacturing conference in Frankfurt, Germany—Arconic will use electron beam high deposition rate technology to 3D print parts. This technology is suited to produce larger aerospace components because it prints them up to 100 times faster than technologies used for smaller, more intricate parts.

Additionally, Arconic will demonstrate the benefits of its proprietary Ampliforge process, which combines traditional and additive manufacturing. The Ampliforge process treats a near complete 3D printed part using an advanced manufacturing process, such as heat-treating, hot isostatic pressing, or forging. These processes enhance the properties of 3D printed parts (i.e., increasing toughness, fatigue and strength versus parts made solely by additive manufacturing) and reduces material input and production lead times.

The company will draw on additive and advanced manufacturing capabilities at its facilities in Cleveland, OH, and at the Arconic Technology Center outside Pittsburgh, PA.

In October, Airbus announced a 3D printing breakthrough involving a smaller airframe component, a 3D-printed titanium pylon bracket. While 3D-printed parts—including metal printed cabin brackets and bleed pipes—are already flying on Airbus A320neo and A350 XWB test aircraft, the new titanium bracket is installed on a series production version of the A350 XWB, Airbus’ newest widebody commercial aircraft.

The application, as installed on a series production commercial airplane as opposed to a test airplane, marks a significant step forward in the qualification of more complex 3D printed parts for production. It paves the way for Airbus to design 3D printed parts that are even more complex and lighter weight.

Arconic is producing these titanium brackets using laser powder bed technologies at its additive manufacturing facility in Austin, TX.

Arconic announced three agreements with Airbus last year. Under those deals, Arconic agreed to supply Airbus with 3D printed engine pylon components for A320 aircraft made from high-temperature nickel. Advanced nickel superalloys offer improved heat resistance for these components, which flow hot air from the engine to other parts of the airframe. Arconic also supplied 3D printed titanium airframe brackets, also for the A320 platform. These components were made using laser and electron beam powder bed processes.

Beyond agreements with Airbus, Arconic is currently working to install a new horizontal furnace at its Davenport Works facility in Iowa. The furnace is required for heat treatment, an essential step in the production of certain high-strength products intended for large aerospace and industrial applications. Construction on the project is expected to begin late this year with commercial production expected to start in 2019.

It will enable Arconic to heat treat longer and thicker plate than in current processes, including material for Arconic’s recently installed Thick Plate Stretcher, which began commercial production this year and is currently claimed to be the largest thick plate stretcher in the world. The company installed the stretcher to meet the growing demand for thick aluminum plating, particularly in composite aerospace wing applications, where composite material is reinforced by monolithic thick plate wing ribs.

“With this new capability, we will meet increasing demand for plate used for aircraft wing ribs, skins, and other structural components, particularly in single-aisle builds. It also opens the door to growth in other markets, such as semi-conductors for consumer electronics and injection molding for automotive applications,” said Tim Myers, President, Global Rolled Products and Transportation and Construction Solutions.

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