Safran Partners with Prodways to Take 3D Printing to the Skies
Michael Molitch-Hou posted on June 06, 2017 |

As the second largest sector for additive manufacturing (AM) applications, aerospace continues to be a key industry for AM machine manufacturers and service providers. French 3D printing company Prodways has just secured an important partnership in this field, potentially testifying to the firm’s role in the overall AM market.

Prodways, a subsidiary of Groupe Gorgé, recently announced that it will be partnering with Safran, one of the largest aircraft engine manufacturers in Europe, to expand its technological capabilities. To learn more about the deal, ENGINEERING.com spoke to Groupe Gorgé CEO Raphaël Gorgé.

Prodways and Safran

In the 3D printing world, Safran is best known for its work with GE. Through joint company CFM International, Safran and GE developed the 3D-printed LEAP jet engine nozzle, which will be installed on engines for a number of new aircraft.

While the LEAP nozzles are produced directly via selective laser melting, the French engine maker will also expand the capabilities of indirect metal part production via 3D printing. Safran recently signed a technological partnership agreement with Prodways that will see the advancement of Prodways’ 3D printing technology for the production of metal parts through indirect casting processes.

 

In addition to manufacturing machines and materials for 3D printing, Prodways provides industrial AM services. The company’s primary technology is called MOVINGLight, which features a digital light projector (DLP) mounted above a vat of photosensitive polymer resin used to harden large swaths of material into physical objects. As industrial machines, Prodways’s MOVINGLight systems are capable of high-throughput, making them ideal for large batch production.

Raphaël Gorgé, CEO of Groupe Gorgé, parent company of Prodways. (Image courtesy of Prodways.)

Raphaël Gorgé, CEO of Groupe Gorgé, parent company of Prodways. (Image courtesy of Prodways.)

According to Gorgé, Safran has been a customer of Prodways’s part production services for about ten years.  “Safran thought that the applications of MOVINGLight for casting, ceramics and other applications had interesting advantages in terms of accuracy and productivity,” Gorgé explained. “So, Safran decided to take our work together one step further. The aim of this partnership is that the company will open up a little bit more about its technology roadmap and, then, together we can focus on the most promising applications of Prodways’ technology.”

 “For us, the partnership represents a very strong recognition,” Gorgé said. “As you know, the aeronautic industry—specifically aircraft engines—is one of the most promising fields for the applications of AM. The fact that Safran has decided to work with us is obviously a strong recognition.”

 

Indirect Metal 3D Printing with Prodways

MOVINGLight can be used to produce metal parts in two different ways. Last October, Prodways announced the ability to 3D print green metal parts that can be sintered in a furnace. Similar to a DLP technology recently unveiled by Admatec, Prodways is able to photocure a photosensitive paste loaded with metal particles. This 3D-printed green part is then sintered into a fully dense metal object through a two-step process.

The other method involves lost wax casting. A model can first be 3D printed in a wax material and encapsulated in ceramic. As the ceramic is baked, the model is burned out, leaving a cavity in the shape of the final part. This ceramic mold is then filled with molten metal to cast the final parts. Alternatively, Prodways’s ceramics 3D printing technology, which relies on photopolymer pastes loaded with ceramic particles, can be used to fabricate the ceramic molds directly.

A turbine blade for an aircraft engine made via lost wax casting based on a model 3D printed with MOVINGLight. (Image courtesy of Prodways.)
A turbine blade for an aircraft engine made via lost wax casting based on a model 3D printed with MOVINGLight. (Image courtesy of Prodways.)

Lost wax casting is a common technique and one in which stereolithography and DLP machines are often used. Gorgé pointed out that, due to the industrial nature of the technology, MOVINGLight may be more stable and, given the large volume of the machines, efficient for producing wax models.

Indirect metal 3D printing may allow Prodways to capture a larger share of the aerospace market, according to Gorgé. “In an aircraft engine, about 30 percent of the parts are cast in foundries. Therefore, our indirect metal process is not competing with parts that can 3D-printed directly by laser sintering.”

Growth for Prodways and Industrial 3D Printing

As part of the partnership, Safran also invested almost €5 million in Prodways. The agreement, however, is not an exclusive one, and Prodways will continue to work with other aerospace manufacturers as well.

This amount pales in comparison, however, to the amount raised by Prodways during its initial public offering (IPO) on Euronext Paris this May. The company raised €50.7 million with the potential to raise an additional €15.3 million after exercising an over-allotment option. This is likely the most successful IPO that the 3D printing industry has had since 2014, when the industry’s bubble burst and share prices for most AM stocks tumbled significantly.

Included in this development is the strengthening of Prodways as the third leading integrated 3D printing company. Two years ago, the company set about positioning itself alongside Stratasys and 3D Systems as the third major company that provides not just machines and materials, but production services as well.

“Even if other companies that are very well known, like SLM Solutions or EOS, are bigger than us, they don’t have this integrated approach, which we think is more valuable and more efficient in terms of strategy to be able to offer either parts or systems,” Gorgé said. “We launched this strategy two years ago and I think that we have succeeded, but we are still growing.”

Gorgé believes that, as the 3D printing industry continues to grow, so too will the use of AM in the aerospace sector. Prodways hopes to play an increasingly crucial role in that growth, as well.

To learn more about Prodways, visit the company website.


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