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Alcoa Expands R&D Center to Deepen Additive Manufacturing Capabilities

A rendering of Alcoa’s expanded R&D center, intended to accelerate the development of advanced 3D-printing materials and processes.
Image courtesy of Alcoa/Business Wire.

NEW YORK & PITTSBURGH—Alcoa, a company with a long history of developing lightweight metal alloys and powders, recently announced that it is expanding its R&D center in Pennsylvania to accelerate the development of advanced 3D-printing materials and processes. The company said in a release that it will produce materials designed specifically for a range of additive technologies to meet increasing demand for complex, high-performance 3D-printed parts for aerospace and other high-growth markets, such as automotive, medical, and building and construction. The $60 million expansion is under construction at the Alcoa Technical Center near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

“Alcoa is investing in the next generation of 3D printing for aerospace and beyond,” Alcoa Chairman and Chief Executive Officer Klaus Kleinfeld said in the release. “Combining our expertise in metal alloys, manufacturing, design, and product qualification, we will push beyond the limits of today’s additive manufacturing. This investment strengthens our leadership position in meeting fast-growing demand for aerospace components made using additive technologies.”

The company ( recently demonstrated its integrated strategy by unveiling its Ampliforge™ process, a technique combining advanced materials, designs, and additive and traditional manufacturing processes. Using the Ampliforge process, Alcoa designs and 3D-prints a near complete part, then treats it using a traditional manufacturing process, such as forging. The company has shown that the process can enhance the properties of 3D-printed parts, such as by increasing toughness and strength, versus parts made solely by additive manufacturing. The Ampliforge process is also said to significantly reduce material input and simplify production relative to traditional forging processes. Alcoa is piloting the technique in Pittsburgh and Cleveland.

Alcoa’s material scientists will produce proprietary aluminum, titanium, and nickel powders designed specifically for 3D-printing. These powders will be tailored for various additive manufacturing processes to produce higher strength 3D-printed parts, and meet other quality and performance requirements. The company will also work to further its development of advanced 3D-printing design and manufacturing techniques—such as Alcoa’s Ampliforge process—to improve production speeds, reduce costs, and achieve geometries not possible through traditional methods.

Through its recent RTI acquisition, Alcoa has gained 3D printing capabilities in titanium, other specialty metals, and plastics for the aerospace, oil and gas, and medical markets. This expansion positions Alcoa to industrialize its advanced 3D printing capabilities across these and other manufacturing facilities.

Construction of the new facility is expected to be completed in the first quarter of 2016. The project will create more than 100 full-time positions—including materials specialists, design experts, and process and inspection technologists—by 2017 and approximately 45 temporary jobs during construction.

The Pennsylvania Department of Community & Economic Development, Westmoreland County, Upper Burrell Township and Burrell School District have agreed to support the project through a mixture of financial support and tax abatements, resulting in an estimated cost savings of up to $10 million.

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