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Metal AM Development in South Africa

August 4, 2012

Filed under: additive manufacturing — Terry Wohlers @ 08:02

Note: The following was co-authored by Tim Caffrey and Terry Wohlers

Aeroswift is an important South African project currently in the works. Launched in 2011, the goal of the project is to design and build an additive manufacturing system capable of building large titanium parts, and building them fast. The system will use a 5-kilowatt IPG single-fiber diode laser capable of build speeds that are 8.3 times faster than other laser-based metal AM systems, according to the developers of the system. What’s more, the system is expected to build parts up to 200 cm (78.7 inches) in length. The Aeroswift system is scheduled to be assembled and tested by early 2013.

Project Aeroswift is a joint initiative of South Africa’s Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR) and Aerosud, an aerospace manufacturing company based in Pretoria, South Africa. Aerosud employes 650 people and supplies parts and major assemblies to Boeing, Airbus, and others. The Aeroswift project is supported by the South African Department of Science and Technology.

South Africa is the world’s second largest producer of the minerals used to make titanium. However, the conventional process for extracting titanium from the raw ores is expensive and complex. CSIR has developed a novel process for extracting titanium powder from the mineral ores. This new process is now being commercialized, and a pilot plant is being built this year. Given the country’s vast mineral resources, Aeroswift is a natural complement to the country’s vast mineral resources and its new method of processing titanium.

This project is certainly worth following. Currently, many structural titanium parts in aerospace are too large for commercially available AM systems. Aeroswift may change that, and with its projected build speed, could change the method of manufacturing of titanium parts in aerospace.