TAI to 3D print 6 meter-long aerostructures with the “world’s largest” electron beam machine from Sciaky

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Metal 3D printing specialist Sciaky has revealed that it plans to ship the “world’s largest” electron beam (EB) directed energy deposition (DED) system to aircraft manufacturer Turkish Aerospace Industries (TAI). 

As part of a new partnership between the firms, TAI is set to install a custom Sciaky 300″ x 108″ x 132″ build volume 300 Series Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM) 3D printer. Once fitted, the large-format system will be used to create titanium aerostructures up to 6 meters in length, in the course of several pilot projects that are expected to help TAI master its deployment of the technology. 

“Sciaky’s EBAM systems are the most widely sold, large-scale DED metal 3D printers in the world, having approved parts on land, sea, air, and space applications,” said Scott Phillips, President of Sciaky. “We applaud TAI’s vision for innovation and their ambitious plans to 3D print some of the largest titanium aerostructures in the world.”

Sciaky's 300 Series EBAM 3D printer.
Sciaky’s 300 Series EBAM 3D printer. Photo via Sciaky.

High-throughput metal 3D printing 

Offered initially as a service, before being incorporated into a turnkey system after a surge in client demand, Sciaky EBAM is essentially a process in which an EB gun is used to deposit wire feedstock layer-by-layer. With a deposition rate of up to 25 lbs per hour, and a dual wire feed system that allows two metals to be combined into a single melt pool, the approach enables the rapid fabrication of custom alloy parts. 

At present, the company markets its EBAM technology both as a service at its 3D Printing Facility, and in the shape of its five large-format machines. The largest system in Sciaky’s offering is its 300 Series, which, thanks to its High Efficiency Pumping–Chamber and 280” x 48” x 48” part envelope, is capable of churning out colossal components at pace. 

The 3D printer also comes fitted with the firm’s proprietary Interlayer Real-time Imaging and Sensing System or ‘IRSS.’ Designed to reduce variability during part production, IRSS is effectively a suite of closed-loop sensors, software logic and CNC controls which monitor key deposition parameters, and makes adjustments in real-time to ensure that throughput doesn’t come at the cost of product quality. 

In the past, Sciaky has deployed its technology alongside the likes of Airbus to 3D print structural wing parts for its airplanes, and continually hailed the process’ aircraft frame, jet engine and missile production potential, thus its partnership with TAI is very much in keeping with its wider strategy of targeting heavy duty aerospace applications. 

Sciaky EBAM System with dual wirefeed configuration. Photo via Sciaky, Inc.
Sciaky’s EBAM systems feature a dual wire feed configuration. Photo via Sciaky.

Sciaky’s Turkish Aerospace deal

While Turkish Aerospace was launched under Turkey’s Ministry of Industry and Technology to reduce the country’s reliance on defense imports in 1973, TAI itself wasn’t founded until 1984, when it was established as a joint Turkish-US firm, tasked with not only building F-16 aircraft, but handling their onboard system integration and flight testing. 

Since then, Turkish Aerospace has undergone a wider restructuring that has seen it broaden its activities, with the aim of becoming a hub for the development of innovative aviation and aerospace technologies. This 2005 revamp effectively saw the firm reorganize into six groups focused on the production of structural, aircraft, helicopter, UAV, space system and national combat aircraft components. 

Having previously dipped its toe into 3D printing, by working with the FIT Additive Manufacturing Group to produce satellite-steering device holders called ‘star tracker brackets,’ TAI has now penned a contract with Sciaky, in a deal that is set to take its adoption of advanced technologies a step further, by seeing it install a custom 300 Series EBAM 3D printer at its plant in Turkey’s capital, Ankara. 

According to Sciaky, following fitting and configuration, the machine will be used to “3D print some of the largest titanium aerostructures in the industry.” Although TAI has yet to confirm the exact parts it intends to produce, the term ‘aerostructure’ can describe anything from an aircraft’s fuselage to its wing surfaces, thus it has left plenty of scope for the technology to be deployed across its business. 

What has been confirmed, is that the 3D printer will be utilized to manufacture titanium parts up to six meters-long, with TAI also set to benefit from its combined EB welding and 3D printing functionalities for applications that require both. Moving forwards, Sciaky says it has committed to conducting a “series of projects” with its new partner, but the delivery schedule for its machine is “still being finalized.”

3D printed star tracker bracket. Photo via FIT AG.
FIT AG’s 3D printed star tracker bracket on display at Formnext in 2019. Photo via FIT AG.

Deploying wire-fed DED 

While Sciaky’s machines continue to deposit alloys at a record-breaking pace, it’s far from the only developer of wire-fed DED technology. Reliance Precision and the University of Huddersfield, for example, are working on a fresh approach to EBAM as part of an Innovate UK-backed project that’s designed to broaden the process’ industry adoption. 

Elsewhere, in another Innovate-UK program, Hybrid Manufacturing Technologies (HMT) is leading the development of a new compact wire-feed system called ‘FastWireAM.’ As part of the project, which has been set up to fast-track the technology’s R&D, consultancy firm TWI and wire feedstock producer Epoch Wires have committed to optimizing its performance and accelerating its uptake as well.

In defense-related applications, researchers at Penn State’s College of Engineering have also been awarded $434,000 by the US Army to develop an improved means of 3D printing high-strength alloys. Using a computer modeling-based approach, the team aims to identify a Laser Directed Energy Deposition (L-DED) setup that’s capable of producing more robust metals with enhanced material efficiency. 

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Featured image shows an engineer using Sciaky’s 300 Series EBAM 3D printer. Photo via Sciaky.