Howco and Nikon SLM’s new partnership to enhance material parameters for aerospace

Metal 3D printer manufacturer Nikon SLM Solutions has extended its partnership with metal alloys specialist Howco Metals Management LLC to enhance 3D printing for aerospace. 

This renewed collaboration has seen Howco acquire two new SLM 280 PS 3D printers, bringing its total number of SLM systems to four. These newly adopted 3D printers form part of an exclusive initiative to develop and deploy process parameters for C-103 alloy, tailored to aerospace applications.  

Howco has also obtained exclusivity for non-defense applications of C-103 for three years on SLM 280 and SLM 500 3D printers. The company claims that this strategic development will allow it to upscale its material production capabilities      

“Partnering with Nikon SLM Solutions has equipped us with unparalleled technological support, enabling us to expand into new markets beyond our traditional scope,” commented Conrad Kao, Director of Additive Manufacturing at Howco. 

He added that the two new SLM 280 PS 3D printers will enhance the firm’s operational efficiency and meet the “intricate needs of the aerospace industry.”   

SLM 280 3D printer. Photo via Nikon SLM Solutions.
SLM 280 PS 3D printer. Photo via Nikon SLM Solutions.

Nikon SLM and Howco enhance aerospace 3D printing 

Howco claims its partnership with Nikon SLM will diversify its material offerings to target demanding aerospace applications with new C-103 alloys and process parameters. 

This high-performance, niobium alloy offers robust mechanical properties at temperatures exceeding 2000℃, making it well suited to rocket and jet engines. The lightweight material also offers good weldability, while boasting impressive strength, corrosion resistance, and ductility.  

The two companies will work to optimize the unique properties of C-103 for the production of rocket nozzles and other high-temperature aerospace applications. Howco claims this will enable the company to remain “at the forefront of innovation” within the aerospace industry and beyond.

Antony Browy, Nikon SLM Solutions’ Regional Sales Manager, calls the partnership “instrumental” in the company’s mission to “push the boundaries of additive manufacturing.” He argues that the exclusive development of C-103 process parameters with Howco will set a “new industry benchmark” for mission-critical aerospace parts.  

The collaboration will also reportedly enable Howco to meet the stringent quality and performance standards of the aerospace sector.   

Nikon SLM Solutions metal parts. Photo by Michael Petch.
Nikon SLM Solutions’ 3D printed metal parts. Photo by Michael Petch.

3D printing materials for aerospace applications 

This is not the first time Nikon SLM has worked to create new 3D printing material parameters for the aerospace industry. Last year, the company developed new material parameters for NASA‘s GRCop-42 copper alloy.

The company’s “ready-made solution” alleviates powder supply challenges and allows service providers to fabricate space-ready components on Nikon SLM 3D printers. The GRCop-42 parameters are optimized for large-format 3D printers such as the NXG XII 600 and enable part density of 99.97%. 

Looking ahead, Nikon SLM will evaluate the impact of hot isostatic pressing (HIP) on mechanical properties, the scalability of post-processing parameters, and parameter optimization for larger parts.   

Elsewhere, researchers from RMIT University developed a high-strength 3D printed titanium “metamaterial” optimized for demanding aerospace applications. The artificial material features a unique hollow-strut lattice structure made from Ti-6Al-4V. 

The researchers claim that this lightweight design is 50% stronger than the strongest alloy with similar density developed for aerospace applications. The new metamaterial is touted as offering value for the production of aircraft of 3D printed rocket engine parts.   

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Featured image shows an SLM 280 3D printer. Photo via Nikon SLM Solutions.