UK researchers have reportedly managed to produce the world’s first 3D-printed titanium car parts – demonstrating how the metal could potentially be used for commercial production.
According to Stephen Harris of The Engineer, titanium is typically considered far too expensive for use in automotive manufacturing. However, a new method of producing titanium powder from sand has opened the way for 3D printing parts cheaply enough for low-to-medium volume production.
The process, formulated by the UK-based Metalysis, creates titanium powder at much lower cost than the conventional method of atomizing blocks of metal. According to Professor Iain Todd of Sheffield University, this means automotive parts can be made more economically using additive manufacturing rather than traditional subtractive techniques.
“If you wanted to make anything out of titanium you normally wouldn’t bother because it’s not a commodity metal,” Todd told The Engineer. “But also the process is getting a lot quicker. It’s certainly a lot better for moderate runs – it used to be very low-volume production runs.”
Indeed, Todd’s team has used the material to 3D print a number of parts including impellers, turbochargers and aerofoils.
“It processes beautifully,” said Todd. “It’s probably one of the easiest materials we’ve ever put on.”
As Harris notes, while the above-mentioned research doesn’t move titanium automotive printing to the point where the material or the technique could be commonly used for mass production, the scientist is confident such a future isn’t all that far off.
“Each time we change something we move closer to the point where titanium could be considered like something as stainless steel,” he concluded. “That’s still a high-value steel but you’re looking that costs the same, is about half the density and has temperature capabilities that are quite attractive I think you’re looking at an interesting competitor to standard automotive material.”