Valley company uses 3D printer to make airplane parts

- 3D printing is something many people have heard of. It involves a printing process where precision machines controlled by a computer literally prints an object, by laying down super-thin layers repeatedly, until the product takes shape.

Now, a company in the Valley is turning Titanium powder into precision parts for airplanes, rockets, and space satellites.

The machine, which is owned by Titan Industries in Tempe, costs $1.2 Million. They also have a machine that makes objects out of plastic. That machine actually printed out a FOX 10 logo.

It all begins with a design that is made via a computer.

"We digitally made a block, and then we made a 'Fox' and a '10' projections," said Joe Manzo, CEO of Titan Industries. "We cut away the material to make that complex design."

The printer then follows the computer's instructions, one super-thin layer at a time. The FOX 10 logo mentioned earlier took three hours to make.

"3D printing is a name for a bunch of processes that is manufactured from digital file, layer by layer, to build the projects," said Manzo. "As opposed to taking a block of material and cutting away, we build it layer by layer."

Besides the FOX 10 logo, the company also printed a tiny plastic drone, using the 3D printer. It is controlled from a smartphone, and it can even do flips on command.

As for the $1.3 Million printer that uses Titanium powder, it uses an electron beam to turn the Titanium powder into metal, by heating it up to a very high temperature. That machine makes layers that are 90 microns thick, or approximately the thickness of a single strand of human hair. Some of the parts the printer prints can take three days to print.

When it is done printing, a powder recovery system would clean off the part. Dust generated by the 3D printer would be saved for future use.

The printer has printed parts for use on airplanes. According to Titan Industries, one in 2,000 parts on a plane right now is made by 3D printers. In ten years, however, they expect one out of every three parts will be made by 3D printers.

Besides airplane parts, Titan Industries said the printers are great for making parts for cars and trucks. Parts for medical uses can also be printed.

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