Skål to the GE Arcam staff in Gothenburg. The team have just sold three massive GE Additive Arcam A2X EBM machines to Sintavia. Brian Neff, Sintavia CEO, had this to say about the deal:
“We are big believers in the electron beam process for high precision structural components manufactured in titanium. It has been a great pleasure to work with GE Additive to develop successful manufacturing strategies for critical aerostructure components. We are excited to expand our production platform using the electron beam process in the months and years to come.”
Alain Dupont, Chief Customer Officer of GE Additive, contributed this comment to the announcement:
“It’s great to see continued momentum and innovation at Sintavia. The recent addition of a third Q20plus printer plus these three recently purchased A2X printers means Sintavia now operates the largest fleet of Q20s and A2Xs in the US. Precision aerostructure parts are a perfect fit for these machines, which were specifically designed for the cost-efficient production of large structural airframe components,”
Sintavia is on a roll. The defense and space market focus that the firm has is coupled with deep experience in powder, testing, qualification, and printing. With all the relevant Nadcap and ISO approvals, the Florida-based firm is proceeding as planned to manufacture high tolerance and high-quality space and defense parts. The allusion to high-precision structural components in titanium and precision aerostructure parts could mean some kind of mounting brackets, engine mounts, payload mounts, pylons, fittings, hinges, stabilizers, nacelles or winglets on aircraft. Or perhaps it could be similar components for missiles and the like. The material is probably the uber-popular Ti 6Al 4V (most people say Ti64) or titanium aluminide or perhaps an ODS titanium, but we can’t really know. Generally, the scant information means that this is probably a military or space project.
We know that Sintavia has made thruster nacelles for NASA in titanium, force balancers also in Ti64, test specimens, and coupons as well. The total public award amount is a few hundred grand, so the purchase of three A2s would seem a bit optimistic based on that. The A2Xs are also notable for being Arcam’s experimental and high-temperature machines. Sintavia says it has three Q20plus machines and another A2X. The A2X design dates from 2009. The Q20s are newer and the Spectras are even newer. So, why would a service bureau want four A2Xs? Either it’s going to use them for regular titanium, it’s going to do a lot of materials development, or it’s looking at oxide dispersion-strengthened materials, such as titanium aluminide.
In a 2019 interview with Arcam CEO Karl Lindblom and VP of Product Management Annika Ölme, Ölme mentions that, “Titanium aluminide is also a very useful material with high strength, low weight, and high heat resistance.” In 2019, I interviewed the lovely and now sadly deceased Patrik Ohldin of open-source EBM firm Freemelt. He told us that,
“Intermetallics, such as titanium aluminides, have good material properties in high operating temperatures and weigh only about half as much as superalloys do. They are, therefore, of great interest to, for example, manufacturers of aero engines. At the same time, intermetallics are challenging since they are generally brittle at room temperature, which makes them difficult and expensive to manufacture with conventional methods. But turbine blades in titanium aluminide are now being manufactured with E-PBF, by taking advantage of the technology’s high process temperature and excellent temperature control. These titanium aluminide turbine blades have already been flight-tested.”
Essentially, the A2X is the turbine blade 3D printer developed for Avio Aero to print turbine blades. This led to GE buying Avio and, later on, Arcam itself to ensure that it could 3D print turbine blades at scale. In this case, we yet again may have the magician focus our attention on brackets while they are one of the world’s few manufacturers of turbine blades for aircraft. For turbine blades, titanium aluminide is a breakthrough material that, with good creep and strength, could make a huge impact. GE has been trying to machine this material into airfoils, turbine blades and compressor cases since the 80s. This handy graphic by materials producer AMG points to where one could find titanium aluminides on a typical aeroengine.
So, perhaps Sintavia gets to be a second source of supply for someone’s turbine blade project? Or since they specified aerostructures, the company is looking beyond the turbine blades themselves into parts of the airframe? Or perhaps Sintavia is working on some kind of ODS-TiAl or Ti material? Here is a good paper on Oxide Dispersion Strengthening, which is a process whereby oxide particles are mixed in with a metal to improve its characteristics. These materials are costly to manufacture but are very high-performance alloys for turbine blades, space vehicle parts, space propulsion parts or parts for hypersonics. All in all, this means that we shouldn’t be expecting part pictures any time soon.
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