Operation of the EBM machine to produce a solid metal part from powder.
Operation of the EBM machine to produce a solid metal part from powder.

GKN Aerospace is to lead a three year, £3.1 million, collaborative research program to develop titanium powder to meet the needs of additive manufacturing (AM) of aerospace components.

The program, called TiPOW (titanium powder for net-shape component manufacture) will also develop the techniques and equipment that will produce the powder consistently, in quantity and at a lower price than today’s material.

The TiPOW program is backed by the UK’s Aerospace Technology Institute (ATI) and innovation agency, Innovate UK. Consortium partners include UK companies Phoenix Scientific Industries Ltd and Metalysis and the University of Leeds. As program leader, GKN’s aerospace business will also draw on the expertise the GKN Powder Metallurgy.

Currently, additive manufacturing often uses alloys and powders that have not been developed for these processes and so are not optimised for this environment. Together the partners will investigate developing titanium alloys and powders with the characteristics that are specifically suited to AM. They will then define the production methods that will produce AM-designed materials to ensure cost is minimised whilst production quality, quantity and consistency all meet the rigorous standards required by aerospace. The TiPOW program will also explore re-use and recycling of titanium material, and a study of potential applications for the recycled material.

‘To date research into AM has focused largely on evolving the processes we will require to enter full scale production but if these processes are to make a significant breakthrough, the quality, repeatability and cost of the material we use will be critical,’ said Russ Dunn, senior vice president, engineering & technology. ‘Working with our industrial and academic partners in the TiPOW program and leveraging expertise from across GKN, we will begin the process of addressing this issue.’

Highly creative project

The TiPOW program forms one element in a major AM research and development initiative across GKN, and will run alongside another GKN Aerospace-led, ATI supported, program called‘Horizon (AM). This program aims to take a number of promising AM techniques through to viable production processes.

‘The UK is already a world leader in aerospace technology and the Aerospace Technology Institute is delighted to be investing in this highly creative project,’ said Gary Elliott, CEO of the UK Aerospace Technology Institute. TIPOW will give us a better understanding and insight into improving airplane performance and will undoubtedly deliver more technological advances to the industry. This program highlights the capabilities of the UK aerospace, promotes healthy competition and will lay the groundwork for even more innovation.

‘We believe AM has the potential to revolutionise the design and manufacture of aircraft, unlocking innovations in low drag, high-performance wing designs and lighter, even more efficient engine systems that will dramatically improve airframe performance and reduce noxious emissions and noise.’