Technology & Digital Innovation

From powder to blade

Additive manufacturing is an incredibly innovative process that basically enables a powdered metal base to be turned into a solid product with precise characteristics down to micron level: in our case an aeronautical product. Of all the production processes at Avio Aero, it is the only one where we actually start from the raw material, namely powder.
Whether in nature or on the materials market, it's not that easy to find titanium, nickel or any other metal in powder form. So we buy it from a supplier, who in turn obtains it by transforming the metal from an ingot into a powder thanks to an atomizer.

Atomizers are divided into families based on the metal in question. Now our plant in Cameri has its own atomizer, which is optimized for the production of powdered titanium. That's the metal we use to manufacture turbine blades, and the one that is hardest to find in powder form because it's expensive and complex, owing to the qualification requirements of regulators in the aeronautical sector.
To describe the process in the simplest of terms, the atomizer melts the ingot of solid matter and turns it into a liquid state. Subsequently, this machine passes a liquid thread from a nozzle through a pressurized argon spray (argon being a noble gas present in the atmosphere), which atomizes the material. Argon is used because it prevents the titanium powder from being contaminated with oxygen.

Atomization is one of the most important stages
in the additive manufacturing process,
which is based on three fundamental cornerstones
powders, machines and design for manufacturing.

Atomization is one of the most important stages in the additive manufacturing process, which is based on three fundamental cornerstones: powders, machines and design for manufacturing. As of today we have taken a big step forward in terms of our ability to produce powders internally, and the machines are set to increase in number. Design for manufacturing, which forms the basis of our engineering expertise, is the ability to design and an object or product and to build it based on that design. The whole process is repeated from scratch every time a new product is introduced (NPI) and is intended to exploit the full potential of the additive processes.

The atomizer device, including the cost of the utilities needed to run it (such as the power in megawatts and the liquid argon) is an investment worth millions that provides two major benefits. The first is a more robust supply chain, insofar as we have a backup supply source besides the one provided by an external powder supplier. The second benefit is related to the first and is economic by nature in a certain sense, the supplier that can obtain powder from ingots no longer holds a monopoly. This enables us to make significant cost savings, explained Paolo Gennaro, Sales Leader for Additive Manufacturing at Avio Aero.
The external supplier therefore continues to work with our plant in Cameri, which reduces its own risks in the event of unavailability of materials for production and other processes. The benefits of this approach will soon become apparent, especially in economic terms, starting with a major initial reduction in prices.

We are moving towards the prospect of a make-and-buy solution, continued Paul Gennaro; which I think will allow us to reduce costs by at least 20% on the turbine blade product, for example, which is a product that is greatly affected by the cost of the powders needed to produce it using our EBM (Electro Beam Melting) machines.

“We are moving towards the prospect
of a make-and-buy solution
which I think will allow us
to reduce costs by at least 20%
on the turbine blade product."

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