3D printing or additive manufacturing technology is revolutionising the design and manufacture of metal mechanical parts
It's a process that transforms 3D models into physical objects by adding successive layers of material, and it relies on computer-assisted design, engineering, manufacturing and material sciences.
3D printing systems can produce parts with more complex internal structures than can be achieved with traditional manufacturing methods — and they can do it faster to reduce time-to-market. 3D printing can be used to make complicated objects with multiple components and functions that would be difficult or impossible to produce with conventional mechanical machining.
A number of different technologies are available for metal printing, but the most promising solution for high-tech industry, and the method that offers the highest precision, is called Additive Layer Manufacturing (ALM). Any type of metal can be used to print three-dimensional objects with the same properties as the basic metal and a manufacturing precision down to about a tenth of a millimetre.
3D printing techniques will make it quicker to develop and manufacture complex, high-value metal alloy parts, especially mechanical parts for the aerospace and space markets.
Thales has set up a 3D factory in Casablanca, Morocco, as an industrial competence centre dedicated to additive manufacturing of metal parts.
Our 3D factory is strategically located in the heart of the local aerospace ecosystem, at the MidParc industrial park in the free zone near Casablanca airport. It's less than 30 km from Morocco's economic capital, with easy access to the international airport, a major seaport, and the national road and rail networks.
Thales covers the whole value chain of 3D printed parts — from concept design and detailed specifications to new product industrialisation, powder chemistry, additive manufacturing, inspection, testing and treatment — for both prototypes and multi-unit or volume production.
The factory opened in September 2017 to handle parts of up to 25 cm x 25 cm x 30 cm, with larger part sizes planned for the future as Thales continues to invest to meet new customer requirements.
Technologies and materials
The Additive Layer Manufacturing process adopted by Thales uses a high-intensity laser to melt metal alloy powders.
Additive Layer Manufacturing can use any type of metal, but setting up the process to guarantee aerospace quality is a long and complicated process. Initially, Thales has focused on aluminium and titanium, two of the aerospace industry's most commonly used metals.