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20th March 2017, Exeter

SWMF develops new surface treatment process for aerospace industry

The aerospace industry is adopting AM. South West Metal Finishing (SWMF) has been working on its Almbrite process for the last three years and believes it could be the future choice of aircraft manufacturers around the world. The process is said to greatly improve the finish of components made using additive manufacturing (AM), by chemically removing material from each surface to achieve the final condition required.

Exeter-based South West Metal Finishing provides surface coatings including electro and electroless plating, anodising, paint and powder coating and non-destructive testing. “We were approached by our clients in the aerospace and defence sectors soon after additive manufacturing started to be used,” said lead researcher James Bradbury.

“But one of the challenges regularly mentioned was the poor finish of AM components. They were often rough or porous, with semi melted powder particles. That can obviously effect the performance of the component which cannot happen when you’re making an aircraft. Safety is paramount.”

Additive manufacturing

The use of AM is on the rise in every sector, from medical to automotive, because of the versatility of creating bespoke designs, one off prototypes or complex components that cannot be machined. But without the correct finish these components may fail at the early assessment stage in an industry that tests and re-tests to breaking point.

AM uses various techniques to construct a 3D component which is built up in discreet layers by using a high-energy heat source to melt or fuse powders. “The aerospace industry is adopting AM, though it needed time to collate data and carry out stringent tests before it was confident the components could withstand the operating conditions they would be subjected to,” commented Mr Bradbury.

“Everything had to be tried and tested and then tested again. Now the processes are considered safe enough they must make sure the finish of these components fulfil the necessary requirements. We are taking it to the next level and we believe Almbrite could address many of the issues currently facing those in AM in the aerospace industry.”

Almbrite project

South West Metal Finishing’s R&D department began working on the Almbrite project in 2014. The company now believes this finishing process could help double its turnover from £6m to £12m within four years.

“It took us a long time to fully develop Almbrite but we knew, because of the nature of AM, that there was a real need for this type of post processing. This is a fantastic opportunity for us as a company and for the industry as a whole,” said Mr Bradbury.

In addition to the Almbrite process, SWMF can work with any metal including nickel, zinc, copper, cadmium, silver, chromium, alloy, anodising, phosphate and aluminium conversion coatings. SWMF is AS9100 and NADCAP accredited and it operates a collection and delivery service throughout the UK and Europe.

www.eicgroup.co.uk

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