Titanium Additive Manufacturing: The Answer to Australia’s Prayers

Will Additive Manufacturing Get Australian Manufacturing Competitive Again?

The short answer is no, not today, but there is hope for the future. The only problem is will it get here quick enough to save the industry…

Ok, here’s the argument for TiAM (Titanium Additive Manufacturing); you have two factories, one in China, one in Australia. There’s 10 TiAM Machines, costs are the same to buy (Well we’d hope so! To date, Australians are being overcharged compared to our overseas counterparts), anyway, you only need one operator to run all the machines, one up for China on lower labour costs, here’s the one up for Australia; we are the biggest producer of Ti in the world, so sourcing the Ti locally would bring the advantage back to Australia. Put this together with our skillsets, being able to quickly supply to the local market and we start having a compelling argument to buy Australian don’t we?… Don’t we? Well, not really, there’s a couple of factors to consider.

Size, Speed & Cost

The AM’s can print 300mm cubed, so your product needs to be in that envelope, they are slow, taking 8-12 hours to print, so mass production is limited, but, if your product is small and you can say fit say 5 units in that 300mm envelope, it may be worthwhile. The machines cost around $400k each, so x10 units, it will take a lot of product to get that $4m ROI.

Titanium

Even though we are the biggest producers of Titanium, the form required for laser AM is Titanium powder, one process is with Argon gas, and the only producers are German companies, so get Ti locally advantage isn’t applicable anymore. Australia needs a local Ti powder manufacturer.

The benefits of Ti are tensile strength and being able to build lighter components, however, grading of the Ti powder is a factor, batches vary. Other variables are humidity and printing layout, so creating mission critical parts from TiAM have a risk associated to them, require further analysis and quality can be inconsistent.

3D Modelling & Simulation

Since you’re building the part layer by layer, Additive Manufacturing and Subtractive Modelling (or solid modelling) don’t seem to be conducive. Traditional 3D Modelling was designed for machines that mill and turn, you start with a block and you cut away, subtracting the material to create a finished product. You model in 3D like you would machine it.

FEA Simulators also have a problem simulating yield strength of AM Processes. They rely on materials being a solid body, forged, casted, heated, treated, not formed layer by layer, each model varying by batch or AM process.

This is where Autodesk can come in… they have tools for additive manufacturing, being able to quickly 3D model advanced surfaces, up to G3 continuity (aka Class-A), bring it together with Solid Modelling and have AM Analysis tools to explore different alternatives and get the most out of your AM process.

We still have a long way to go, but with time, we’ll get there, let’s hope it comes in time.

Email at djovica@imaginit.com.au or call on +61 3 9210 4428 if you want to discuss Additive Manufacturing in more detail…

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