Let’s start with the basics and a description of how 3D printing – or additive manufacturing – works.

Herbert: It depends on the technology that is applied. If I speak specifically about Titomic, you need to think of it as using a kind of rocket engine – a small one – that has a nitrogen gas feed mixed with a metal powder. Within that rocket engine you accelerate the powder to literally supersonic speeds. When you push it out through a very thin nozzle that can be made from different materials you have a stream of metal particles travelling at around Mach 2 or Mach 3.

This is seriously fast. As soon as these particles encounter some resistance in the form of a scaffold or a structure they start to deform and bond with each other. This creates something that is harder than the original material and allows you to spread a single layer on the surface. If you repeat that process you can start building three dimensional structures.

Another analogy is a painting machine where you spray layers of colour on a wall. This is a great way of doing things because you get consistent coverage, it’s fast and it’s easy to handle. This means that using this process you can cover any type of part with a thin layer of something – and in our case that thin something is a metal.

This could be titanium, steel, copper – anything you can think of, as long as the metal can come in the form of a powder. You can spray a surface or something in the form of a tube that with repeated applications gives you a 3D structure.

Q: Are there limits to the types of structures that you can produce?

Herbert: At the moment with the level of precision that can be achieved it is what we call near-shape technology. For example, if you are attempting to produce a tool for the aerospace industry that will manufacture carbon fibre components, what we can make from metal is close to the final shape. It is thicker than the final part, which means that it needs some machining and heat treatment for completion.

However, from a production standpoint this is a much, much better and more sustainable process than traditional methods. We can produce something that is only 20% larger than the final part, greatly reducing the amount of material that you have to machine from it. This is so much better than having a billet where 80% of the material has to be removed and basically thrown away, compared with an average wastage rate of 10%-12% for the way we do it.

Secondly, we can also save time. It’s easy to understand that carving off 80% of material with a CNC cutter from a blank takes much longer than the same machine trimming off 10%.

This is an excerpt from APDR. To read the full story, click here.

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Kym Bergmann
Kym Bergmann is the editor for Asia Pacific Defence Reporter (APDR) and Defence Review Asia (DRA). He has more than 25 years of experience in journalism and the defence industry. After graduating with honours from the Australian National University, he joined Capital 7 television, holding several positions including foreign news editor and chief political correspondent. During that time he also wrote for Business Review Weekly, undertaking analysis of various defence matters.After two years on the staff of a federal minister, he moved to the defence industry and held senior positions in several companies, including Blohm+Voss, Thales, Celsius and Saab. In 1997 he was one of two Australians selected for the Thomson CSF 'Preparation for Senior Management' MBA course. He has also worked as a consultant for a number of companies including Raytheon, Tenix and others. He has served on the boards of Thomson Sintra Pacific and Saab Pacific.


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