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Suppliers Unveil Major Additive Manufacturing Investments
July 12th, 2016
Michael Bruno, Aviation Week
July 12th, 2016
If Alcoa was known for providing aluminum, then soon-to-be Arconic—its coming spinoff serving aerospace manufacturing and other industries—wants to be known for something else: problem-solving via additive manufacturing (AM).
Hexcel Corp., the leading aerospace composite materials provider, may be seeking a similar reputation, if another recent announcement is any indication.
Since the summer started, both companies have unveiled major new initiatives featuring AM, sometimes called 3-D printing. On May 31, Hexcel announced a “strategic” buy-in at Oxford Performance Materials (OPM). The privately owned company produces thermoplastic, carbon fiber-reinforced 3-D-printed parts for commercial aerospace and defense applications.
Details of the financial commitment were not provided, but executives say the investment creates a partnership between the Connecticut-based companies to “advance the commercial application of this growing manufacturing technology to serve the aerospace market.”
Specifically, the money will go to joint business development efforts and to expand OPM’s production capacity under its Oxfab technology platform. OPM claims to be the first company to successfully apply AM with polymer polyetherketoneketone.
“Hexcel represents the gold standard in carbon fiber and composite material technologies, and our core target markets are extremely complementary,” says OPM Chairman and CEO Scott DeFelice.
“With the adoption of these lightweight, high-performing materials expected to accelerate, this is an ideal opportunity for our two companies to work together, enabling faster product development and adoption for our customers,” says Hexcel Chairman, CEO and President Nick Stanage.
Meanwhile, on July 6, Alcoa formally unveiled its 3-D-printing metal powder-production facility at the Alcoa Technical Center just outside of Pittsburgh, the world’s largest light metals research center. Under Arconic’s coming quasi materials-agnostic approach, it will produce proprietary titanium, nickel and aluminum powders specifically for 3-D-printed aerospace parts.
Alcoa says the plant is part of a $60 million investment in advanced 3-D-printing materials and processes and builds on its AM capabilities in California, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas. Along with producing powders, the company is targeting other additive techniques, including its recently unveiled Ampliforge process, a hybrid technique that combines additive and traditional manufacturing.
Ampliforge is a suite of post-printing processes that will take a near-complete additively manufactured part and treat it using traditional manufacturing techniques, such as forging, improving performance through a “best-of-both-worlds” production approach. Hot isostatic pressing is another applicable process.
Alcoa says Ampliforge can enhance the properties of 3-D-printed parts, for example improving microstructure to increase toughness and strength, when compared with parts made solely through additive manufacturing. Producing near-net parts by 3-D printing, meanwhile, reduces the metal used in forgings. Alcoa is piloting the technique here at its Technical Center and in Cleveland.
Alcoa is expected to deliver its first AM parts to aircraft OEM Airbus soon, for use in commercial airliners under a deal unveiled in April. “Airbus gave us the first contract that they have ever given out for commercial pieces on the airplane,” Klaus Kleinfeld, chairman and CEO of Alcoa, told Aviation Week in June.
Other companies are unveiling AM-related financing, too. On June 30, Norsk Titanium AS, one of the earliest suppliers of aerospace-grade 3-D-printed structural titanium parts, announced the successful close of its second-quarter 2016 funding round.
According to Norsk, that included a $10 million equity investment from midmarket private equity firm Insight Equity Holdings, another $10 million via a debt facility from Harbert European Growth Capital Fund I, and a combined $5 million equity investment from a “number of smaller investors.”
“We chose to invest in Norsk Titanium because their Rapid Plasma Deposition technology is heralded as one of the most disruptive processes in additive manufacturing, and their strong management team makes it a real game changer in a sector so often bereft of true innovation,” says Johan Kampe, senior managing director at Harbert.
The $25 million funding round follows $125 million to support the development of Norsk Titanium’s Plattsburgh, New York, factory, which is part of Norsk’s proposed $1 billion, 10-year project in the state. Those funds came in New York State’s 2016 budget.
Reprinted with permission from Aviation Week