Russian titanium giant sceptical about 3D printed forgings

Russian firm VSMPO-AVISMA remains sceptical about near-term applications for 3D-printed forgings as the titanium supplier works to deliver more advanced materials to aerospace Tier 1 suppliers and OEMs.

"I think VSMPO is quite far way" from 3D printing titanium forgings to aircraft manufacturers, VSMPO chief executive Mikhail Voevodin says at the MAKS air show. With a tone of obvious under-statement, Voevodin adds: "It's not next year."

At the same time, VSMPO is responding to pressure from Airbus and Boeing to deliver titanium forgings requiring less post-processing. The manufacturers want a forging delivered that is closer to a finished product ready for installation on an assembly line.

Starting in 2004, VSMPO started performing rough machining on titanium parts, but applications were limited to domestic supply chains, Voevodin says. Three years later, VSMPO began delivering machined forgings to landing gear suppliers outside Russia. Finally, in 2013, Airbus and VSMPO formed a strategic partnership to add rough machining for aircraft structures made of titanium, he says.

Despite such progress in subtractive manufacturing methods, VSMPO isn't optimistic about converting forging furnaces to additive-style 3D printing machines.

Although 3D printing technology has advanced in recent years, titanium applications are mostly limited to castings, which are not as robust as forged parts, Voevodin says. The biggest problem with 3D printing technology today is a lack of understanding of the finished material’s weaknesses, as ultrasound testing of 3D-printed parts is not yet ready to meet aerospace manufacturing specifications, he says.