Rapid Additive Forging (RAF) technology was introduced last year by Prodways Group as a fast, robotic 3D printing method used to print large metal components, particularly titanium. It takes some time to really get a new 3D printing technology off the ground, but RAF is making progress, as Prodways has announced the installation of the first machine based on the technology at the Toulouse facility of the Nexteam Group after two years of R&D work. Nexteam Group specializes in the manufacture of hard metal aeronautic parts and sub-assemblies, and will be the first aeronautics sub-contractor to use the new technology.

“Nexteam Group’s investment is a major milestone in the development of Rapid Additive Forging technology,” said Raphaël Gorgé, President and Chief Executive Officer of Prodways Group. “In partnering with Nexteam Group, which will input its own expertise in machining and finishing services, we are convinced we can ramp this new manufacturing process up to an industrial scale compatible with the technical requirements of major players in the aeronautics and space market.”

With RAF, Nexteam Group will be able to rapidly produce titanium parts for its customers.

“This project is strategic, a real competitive edge for the Group,” said Frédéric Gentilin, Vice President of Nexteam Group. “We are the first in France to get equipped with this technology. In real terms, we will be cutting our production cycles and extending our product range. The goals of economic gain and logistics performance that are key requirements of our industrial sector in no way diminish our focus on the high quality standards with which our Group is associated.”

RAF technology is known for its speed, but it will also lead to the mass production of titanium blanks with very similar geometry to the final part. This means that finish machining is all that is needed, and makes the process more cost effective.

“We will also be saving on materials with this new machine,” said Bruno Pierrel, R&D Director for Nexteam Group. “With this process, we add material, whereas with standard techniques we would cut out up to 95% of the material.”

The RAF machine will be delivered to Nexteam Group’s facility in April. From 2018 to 2019, a qualification phase will take place under real operating conditions, to show process repeatability so that mass production can start by the middle of 2019.

“In under 18 months we will be able to provide our customers with titanium parts with higher mechanical strength than other 3D printing techniques, for new generation aircraft,” said Gentilin.

Prodways Group’s aeronautics and space customers include more than 10 major industrial players. The new partnership will allow Prodways to offer a range of quality products that meet the standards of this market, which is a priority for the company.

[Image: Prodways Group]

RAF was developed in partnership with Commercy Robotique, which is, like Prodways, a subsidiary of Groupe Gorgé. The technology involves a head depositing molten metal in an atmosphere of inert gas. The metal is deposited layer by layer, completing large parts in just a few hours’ time. Over the past 12 months, metallurgic analyses have showed absence of porosity, homogeneity of the part in all directions, and productivity that is much higher than other 3D metal printing techniques using powder sintering with a laser or electron beams.

The RAF machine can produce parts up to 1200 x 800 x 500 mm. It’s especially well-suited to titanium due to full control over the inert loop and a patent-pending printing system. Several aircraft and engine manufacturers have already ordered parts made using the technology. Advantages include a reduction of over 80% in waste material compared to machining techniques, no tooling needed and no non-recurring costs such as forms and molds compared with forging techniques, and an overall reduction in manufacturing lead times.

Other sectors have shown an interest in the technology for coating parts or adding functions on steel, Inconel or technical aluminum alloys.

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