Metal Powder for 3D Printing Voestalpine Boosts Aerospace Business
By 2021, Voestalpine will have invested around half a billion euros in technology development. Preliminary phases for a production facility for metal powder used in 3D printing have already been completed.
Now three major new facilities have successfully gone into operation. The highlight is a EUR 40 million forging line enabling materials for highly stressed, rotating aircraft turbine components to be manufactured for the first time; it also expands the portfolio of steel grades for the automotive and oil & gas industry. Work on constructing the new special steel plant is progressing rapidly.
The voestalpine High Performance Metals Division, with its Styrian sites Kapfenberg and Mürzzuschlag which together have a workforce of around 3,800 employees, is a leading global provider of high-performance materials and special forgings for the aerospace sector. The products are used in structural and undercarriage parts, engine components, and door segments in all major models of aircraft, including Airbus, Boeing, Embraer, and Bombardier. Franz Rotter, Member of the Management Board of voestalpine AG and Head of the High Performance Metals Division, comments: "With the new high-tech forging line at voestalpine Böhler Edelstahl going into operation, we are enhancing our position as a leading technological supplier of highly sophisticated aerospace materials. Manufacturing special materials for rotating — and thus particularly quality-critical — engine parts also allows us to enter a new product segment in this market.".
The fully-digital plant started production last October after one and a half years of construction, and each year will process around 20,000 tons of material produced by the company’s own special steel plant. Significant investment is also being made into expanding activities in the aerospace sector at the sister companies in Styria: voestalpine Böhler Aerospace is erecting a state-of-the-art production facility for aerostructures close by (scheduled startup in 2019), while this summer voestalpine Böhler Bleche in Mürzzuschlag began operating a new rolling line for titanium plates for aerospace applications. Over the mid-term annual revenue in this industry is expected to rise from around EUR 300 to EUR 500 million.
Pioneering 3D Printing and New Chemical Laboratory
After the start of a pilot plant two years ago, the launch of a major facility for manufacturing the extremely fine powder which serves as the pre-material for 3D printing represents a further technological milestone. In future external partners and the Group’s own 3D printing centers around the world will all be supplied from Kapfenberg. “We are one of only a few suppliers worldwide able to offer a complete value chain in the metal additive manufacturing sector — covering everything from powder and design through to the final metal part,” says Franz Rotter. In summer a new chemical laboratory was also opened, allowing the material production and processing at voestalpine Böhler Edelstahl in Kapfenberg to be optimized on an ongoing basis. Each year around 40 laboratory technicians will analyze 200,000 material samples, ensuring they meet our customers’ stringent quality criteria.
Training with a Focus on Digitalization
Since the start of this year the technological transformation at the Kapfenberg site has also included an in-house competence center for digitalization. Equipped with the latest tools, this new facility provides an innovative training and development environment. The apprenticeship workshop will also consistently apply digitally-supported training concepts. At the start of the current apprenticeship year a new electronics and automation laboratory was set up for jobs with a focus on process control, mechatronics, robotics, and IT technology. Around 270 apprentices in 12 trades are currently undergoing training using this forward-looking style of apprenticeship workshop.
New Special Steel Plant: Construction Work on Schedule
Since the groundbreaking ceremony in April this year, construction work for the world’s most advanced special steel plant in Kapfenberg (investment volume of up to EUR 350 million) has progressed according to schedule. After completion of the access roads and an assembly area, preparation of the construction site will also shortly conclude. Work on building the foundations for the hall will begin this winter. From 2021 onwards the new plant will produce around 205,000 tons of high-performance steels annually, chiefly for the aerospace and automotive industry as well as the oil & gas sector.