10/5/2015 | 2 MINUTE READ

Alcoa Expands R&D Center, Launches New Process

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An expansion underway in Pennsylvania will support AM material and process development, including a new technique for 3D-printed parts.

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Lightweight metals supplier Alcoa is adding a $60 million expansion to its research and development center near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, to accelerate the development of advanced 3D-printing materials and processes. Alcoa will produce materials designed specifically for a range of additive technologies to meet increasing demand for complex, high-performance 3D-printed parts for aerospace and other high-growth markets such as automotive, medical, and building and construction from the expanded Alcoa Technical Center.

 “Alcoa is investing in the next generation of 3D printing for aerospace and beyond,” said Alcoa Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Klaus Kleinfeld. “Combining our expertise in metal alloys, manufacturing, design and product qualification, we will push beyond the limits of today’s additive manufacturing. This investment strengthens our leadership position in meeting fast-growing demand for aerospace components made using additive technologies.”

The expansion will further Alcoa’s approach to advancing additive manufacturing through materials, process and design, and qualification expertise. At the facility, the company plans to produce proprietary aluminum, titanium and nickel powders tailored for various additive manufacturing processes to produce higher strength parts. It will also develop design processes and manufacturing technique to improve production speeds, reduce costs and achieve geometries not possible through traditional methods, and leverage its testing and process control expertise to overcome challenges with certifying 3D-printed parts.

In conjunction with the expansion announcement, Alcoa also unveiled its Ampliforge process, one of the techniques to be further developed at the R&D center. Ampliforge is a process that combines advanced materials and designs with both additive and traditional manufacturing. Using the technique, Alcoa designs and 3D prints a near-complete part, then treats it using a traditional manufacturing process, such as forging. According to the company, making components this way can enhance a 3D-printed part’s toughness and strength. The process also reduces material input and simplifies production relative to traditional forging processes. Alcoa is piloting the technique in Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

The center expansion currently under construction builds on Alcoa’s existing additive manufacturing capabilities in California, Georgia, Michigan, Pennsylvania and Texas. The company has been creating 3D-printed tools, molds and prototypes for the past 20 years and owns and operates what it says is one of the world’s largest hot isostatic pressing (HIP) complexes in aerospace, a technology that strengthens the metallic structures of traditional and additive manufactured parts made of titanium and nickel-based super-alloys. Through the recent RTI acquisition, Alcoa gained 3D printing capabilities in titanium, other specialty metals and plastics for the aerospace, oil and gas, and medical markets. This expansion positions Alcoa to industrialize its advanced 3D printing capabilities across these and other manufacturing facilities.

Construction of the new facility is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2016. According to Alcoa, the project will create more than 100 full-time positions, including materials specialists, design experts, and process and inspection technologists, by 2017 and approximately 45 temporary jobs during construction.

The Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development, Westmoreland County, Upper Burrell Township and Burrell School District have agreed to support the project through a mixture of financial support and tax abatements, resulting in an estimated cost savings of as much as $10 million.

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