A new chemical immersion treatment could revolutionise the aerospace industry

South West Metal Finishing has been working on an additive manufacturing surface treatment process for the last three years and believes it could be the future choice of aircraft manufacturers around the world, such as the likes of Safran, UTC Aerospace and Airbus.

Figure 1. Left top: AM part resolution at 500 microns. Left bottom: Treated part resolution at 500 microns. Middle: AM part without treatment. Right: AM part treated with new immersion process.

Almbrite™ is a chemical immersion process designed to modify and enhance the surface of additive manufactured (AM) parts by removing foreign object debris whilst smoothing and brightening the surface of a part, as illustrated in Figure 1.

Aerospace and defense manufacturers have been searching for a surface treatment solution since additive manufacturing started to be used. One of the challenges regularly encountered is the poor finish of AM components. They are often rough or porous, with semi-melted powder particles. That can obviously affect the performance of the component, which is detrimental when you’re making an aircraft.

AM uses various techniques to construct a three-dimensional object including direct energy deposition and powder bed fusion processes. AM is a process in which a component is built up in discreet layers by using a high-energy heat source to fuse powders. The processes are driven by data from computer aided designs (CAD) which are then sliced into individual layers. In some cases, fine metal powders are deposited on top of a build platform and the energy beam is used to melt the shape of the design. The build then proceeds with a new layer of metal powder which is then melted, such that the component is built up in a layer by layer fashion.

Figure 2. Improved performance.

This layer manufacturing approach means that more complex parts can be produced compared with traditional processes. One of the benefits of AM for manufacturers is that increased complexity generally doesn’t have a detrimental impact on the cost of the process. Parts treated with the new technology are more cost-effective than machined parts as they can increase in geometric complexity without increasing the cost of build (Figure 2).

AM allows component designers to have greater design freedom, knowing that the end result will be more representative of the final design than is possible with traditional processes.

The use of AM is on the rise in every sector, including medical and automotive, because of the versatility of creating bespoke designs, one-off prototypes, or complex components that cannot be machined. But without the correct finish, these components may fail at the early assessment stage in an industry that tests and re-tests to the breaking point.

The aerospace and defense industry has adopted AM, though it needed time to collate data and carry out stringent tests before it was confident the components could withstand the operating conditions they would be subjected to. Everything had to be tried and tested and then tested again. Now the processes are considered safe enough, they must make sure the finish of these components fulfills the necessary requirements.

The highly skilled team developing this technology knows the testing, time and effort it takes to achieve approval certificates in aerospace and are fully accredited with NADCAP, ISO 9100, ISO9001 and ISO14001, holding approvals for all the major UK tier one suppliers. AM surface treatment is being taken to the next level and many of the issues currently facing those using additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry are being addressed. This innovative surface treatment process greatly improves the finish of components made using additive manufacturing, by chemically removing material from each surface to achieve the final condition required.

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