The world’s third largest producer of aluminum, Alcoa, has seemingly taken a keen liking to 3D printing. Back in November of last year it was reported that the company would be adopting the technology for the production of jet engine components, and then just a few months ago in June, they announced a $22 million investment to expand their use of additive manufacturing at their Whitehall, MI facility.
Today we get word that the Pittsburgh, PA-based company will be investing an additional $60 million to expand the R&D wing of the Alcoa Technical Center, primarily so that they can more efficiently and quickly develop advanced 3D printing materials. The Center, which is already the largest in the world when it comes to light-weight metal research, will soon be a hub for the development of a range of additive manufacturing-related materials for industries such as aerospace, medical, automotive and construction.
“Alcoa is investing in the next generation of 3D printing for aerospace and beyond,” said Alcoa Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Klaus Kleinfeld. “Combining our expertise in metal alloys, manufacturing, design and product qualification, we will push beyond the limits of today’s additive manufacturing. This investment strengthens our leadership position in meeting fast-growing demand for aerospace components made using additive technologies.”
The new facility will be completed by the first quarter of 2016 and is expected to eventually result in over 100 new full-time jobs, which will include design experts, inspection and process specialists, and materials specialists.
In addition to this announcement, the company also has unveiled a new manufacturing process called Ampliforge. This process combines traditional manufacturing techniques with advanced materials and 3D printing, enhancing the properties of objects which otherwise would have been manufactured using traditional means. According to Alcoa, this new process results in objects which are produced with superior toughness and strength, while simplifying overall production techniques and reducing material use.
Alcoa says that they have a three-pronged approach when it comes to their additive manufacturing ambitions, which include:
- Qualification Expertise – Testing and process control expertise from years of research and implementation allows them to overcome the many challenges involved in additive manufacturing.
- Materials Leadership – Alcoa has invented over 90% of all the aluminum alloys used within the aerospace industry today, and will leverage this experience and success to produce nickel, titanium and aluminum powders for 3D printing.
- Combination of Process and Design – The company will look to reduce costs, increase speeds, and achieve intricate geometries via their new additive manufacturing and hybrid additive manufacturing techniques, which include their Ampliforge process.
As the market for materials within the additive manufacturing space is predicted to expanded exponentially over the next four to five years, Alcoa seems to be positioning themselves as a leader within the materials and processes space. Let us know your thoughts on these moves in the Alcoa 3D Printing forum thread on 3DPB.com.