Aerospace AM Economics: Materials

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On November 14, 2017, Posted by , In Aerospace, With No Comments

Based on feedback from a recently completed survey, Addaero’s newest blog series will focus on the economics of additive manufacturing (AM) for the aerospace industry. While there are many examples out there discussing the cost of AM, there is little information related to the cost of translating additive manufacturing to the aerospace industry.  There are often many examples out there regarding the cost of AM but there is little information related to the cost of additive manufacturing in the aerospace industry.  In addition to the initial qualification of the additive components for aerospace applications, one must also consider the ongoing production cost as well.  These series of blog posts will look at not only the 3d printing economics but also the related processes that are often required for aerospace production.  It will be split into four posts, material, printing, post-processing, and quality assurance.  The first topic is material as this is a critical step in ensuring consistency in any production situation.

One of first areas to consider when using any am process is your feedstock.  In the metal additive manufacturing space, this is typically going to either powdered metal or wire depending on the process.  Before people look at the price of the material there are additional factors that must be considered:

Source:  Where is the material melted?  Is it provided by material provider or distributor?  Where is the feedstock source?  This can also be critical for US Defense applications where DFARS regulations are flowed down.

Powder Quality:  Does the powder contain excessive porosity, is the size distribution within spec, does the chemistry meet specifications

Batch to Batch Variability:  Are you going to see a consistent product every time to drive consistent properties.

Vendor Quality:  Does the material provider have complete traceability on their product.  Does their packaging ensure you are getting what you ordered?  Does the material supplier provide a certification that enables product acceptance from your customer?

Machine Compatibility:  Most importantly does it run with your machine?

Variability in material pricing can be driven by multiple factors.

These questions must be answered when selecting a vendor.  Current non-disclosure agreements prevent us from releasing specific pricing but below is a chart that details the variability in pricing for Ti 6-4 for EBM.  No providers are names and pricing is a notional value that is to illustrate the variability.  Based on actual pricing, there is significant variability in the market but with the factors above higher pricing may be justified.

In addition to material price, there are more factors that will drive the material pricing for your final application.  Below are additional factors that can have significant influence.

Vendor Over-inspect:  At Addaero we hold our vendors to the highest standards, but no process is perfect, and all powdered metal looks the same.  Because of these we inspect every batch of material that comes in the door for chemistry and other attributes to ensure quality.  This can also be driven by end customers’ requirements as well.

Material Recycling:  There have been many studies performed on material recyclability but often OEM’s pick limits based on previous experience that can have significant effects on pricing.  Below is a chart that details the cost of material based on 5, 10, 20, or unlimited recycling limits.

Material recycling limits can have a significant impact on material cost.

 Material Traceability:  Another item to consider is the traceability on the material required by the customer.  This is specifically related to the powder lots and mixing of new material.  For example, if the customer demands a single heat lot with unlimited re-use the vendor will be driven to purchasing a large heat lot of powder to ensure the max economic life of the powder.

Scrap Factor:  Additive manufacturing has an inherent benefit in the process to drive users to only consume what they use.  The reality is slightly different where you can expect a level of scrap in each run.  This is typically still world class for the aerospace industry where buy to fly ratios often exceeds 30 to 1.  The chart details some examples of typical scrap factors for various processes and conditions.  These factors are based on both the melt and the support of the parts.

All the above factors can contribute the overall price of the material for additive manufacturing in aerospace applications and should be considered when looking at the total economic benefit of the process.  Finally, there is a chart that details the cost breakdown example of a component with the following conditions:

The factors above can all have an influence on the final part price for aerospace AM.

Weight:  .2 KG

Scrap Factor:  1.5

Material trace:  Single heat lot

Q/A requirement:  AMS

Recyclability limit:  20 re-use

Material Price:  200/KG

As you can see the material cost itself is only a portion of the overall price.  These factors need to be considered when building a business case for additive manufacturing in aerospace.  Subsequent blog posts will detail how the material fits into the overall economics.


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