SLM Solutions uses 3D printing to build titanium spacecraft valve body

Nov. 1, 2016
Metal 3D printing technology developer SLM Solutions has built a 12.21 x 8.74 x 8.66in.-diameter 3D-printed titanium aircraft component.

NOVI, MI - Metal 3D printing (also known as additive manufacturing) technology developer SLM Solutions has built a 12.21 × 8.74 × 8.66in.-diameter 3D-printed titanium aircraft component—the largest part to date built using the company's SLM 280HL system with dual 400W lasers, which made it possible to build a part of this size in a relatively short timeframe compared to conventional manufacturing. The system, which features an increased build plate size at 280 × 280 × 365mm, makes larger-sized parts possible (FIGURE).

The completed part in the SLM 280HL 3D printing system's 280 × 280 × 365mm build chamber.

SLM Solutions uses selective laser melting (SLM) technology for metal 3D printing, specifically in titanium for aerospace/aircraft applications because of its strength and light weight. The company has overcome the size limitations of the build chamber and the other challenges that come with building large titanium parts. Advancements in 3D printing using titanium are particularly critical, as it is a material that normally is very hard and subject to cracking because of high residual stresses.

In the dual overlapping laser technology, two lasers working simultaneously on the part in the overlap area enabled not only a faster build, but a larger part as well—there is no difference in quality between the area built exclusively by one laser and the area in the overlap worked on by both lasers interchangeably. However, printing a part of that size in titanium in such a short time was something that could not have been achieved, had the part been machined out of a billet—it would have required four or five setups, and would have been a costly process.

A recent study funded by the U.S. Department of Energy Advanced Manufacturing Office demonstrated that aircraft weight can be reduced by 7% by replacing conventional means of manufacturing with additive manufacturing—an astonishing number for an industry where most weight-efficiency improvements are one or two percentage points.

As the additive manufacturing industry evolves, SLM Solutions is seeing greater demand for more applications. However, the materials and the process of producing these parts are advancing so fast that the standards are quickly becoming outdated. The company is being contacted by more companies used to traditional manufacturing that now need to increase speed and throughput while maintaining quality, and want to convert conventionally manufactured parts into additive manufacturing.

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