Airbus components could be made in SA
With many analysts expressing concern that violent strikes might lead to the flight of business out of the country, a new industry might just have touched down.
Airbus parts could soon be manufactured in South Africa using titanium.
The company announced in Johannesburg yesterday that it was working with the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research and South African aerostructures manufacturer Aerosud to build components for its aeroplanes.
A specific form of additive layer manufacturing (ALM), which involves titanium beneficiation, is at the heart of the venture.
The titanium ALM process is the latest in a series of Airbus partnerships with the Department of Science and Technology.
"ALM involves forming an object from powder, which is arranged in layers and fused by high-speed lasers," said Hardus Greyling, coordinator of Project Aeroswift at CSIR.
He said the process minimised waste and optimised the manufacturing process as it did not cut components out of large billets, leading to left-overs and cut offs.
Instead, it added small bits to create it, according to the specifications of the manufacturer.
More than R37-million was spent to get a prototype ready that is "an order of magnitude bigger and an order of magnitude faster" than previous ALM undertakings.
Dr Paul Potgieter, managing director of Aerosud, said the technology would enable the production of large geometrically complex items "ten times faster".
The ALM process will focus "on parts that are prohibitively expensive or impossible to make using traditional methods."
South Africa has vast resources of titanium that are not yet being beneficiated in a meaningful way before being exported, Potgieter said. Trials with the prototype is expected to start in March.
But according to Dale King, Airbus's senior manager for international research and technology projects, it will take a number of years before "we can print airplane components with it".
The Department of Science and Technology has, in conjunction with the Department of Trade and Industry, spent R200-million on titanium beneficiation research.
With air traffic projected to double in the next 15 years, component manufacturing is a very lucrative business.
Airbus projects that by 2031 the world's passenger fleet would have expanded by 110% - from 15550 today to more than 32550.
Over the next two decades, the world's freighter fleet will almost double - from 1600 to 3000 aircraft.