“One of the largest opportunities in the global market today is related to additive manufacturing,” Jacopo Nardi, International Business Manager, RINA Consulting-CSM, Italy.
RINA Consulting – Centro Sviluppo Materiali, S.p.A. is a leading R&D and consultancy firm based in Italy. With over 20 laboratories, pilot lines and full scale testing facilities, the company has emerged as the partner of choice for any industrial project in which materials, technology, and innovation play a critical role. It provides full support to its global clients in product and process innovation, covering all aspects from metallurgical design to the development and optimization of manufacturing processes.
Mr. Jacopo Nardi heads the Materials, Technology & Innovation division team of RINA Consulting as the Business Manager for International Development. He joined the company in 2014, after 12 years’ experience in sales in the steel industry, both in Italy and in Germany.
ArtValley and AlCircle had an opportunity to talk to Mr. Nardi about the current additive manufacturing scenario and what prospects aluminium and its alloys hold in the emerging sector.
Here’s an excerpt from the interview:
AlCircle: RINA Consulting-CSM has been successfully developing lighter, safer, more resistant and environmentally friendly materials for businesses across industries. What prospects do you see in aluminium as a material of choice in the emerging field of additive manufacturing?
Jacopo Nardi: We have been expanding our experience in aluminium alloy applications for several years. Some of them are used in aeronautical applications; for example, a special coating made from a NiAl-based super-alloy that enhances the behavioural quality of turbine blades.
Aluminium not only as an alloy but as the material itself has made a reasonably good market in the automotive industry, and is currently being considered as an alternative to steel in many applications because of the clearly evident lightweighting benefits it offers for vehicles. Nevertheless, some experiments have been done in our company as well. We have also developed and tested some innovative composites, hardened composites using thermoplastic in order to provide additional protection or, in some cases, to replace metallic components in some aeronautical applications.
We are working on an aluminium alloy for powders to be used in the new additive manufacturing machine, as you know, the new generation are able to use metal powders. For us this will be a relatively new activity with enormous growth prospects. This is due to the fact that there are currently fewer than 30 metal powders available in the market and they have been developed mainly for aeronautical and medical applications. So, there will be ample room for the development of different types of metal alloys that are addressed to different markets.
AlCircle: What are the major opportunities and the next big challenge for CMS right now in the international market?
Jacopo Nardi: One of the largest opportunities in the global market today, in my opinion, is related to additive manufacturing. This is a real burning topic in Europe. Most of our customers are investigating what the impact of this new technology on their business could really be and so, in my opinion, this will be one of the future business breakthroughs in the current manufacturing industry scenario.
Nowadays, 3D printing is becoming the supply chain’s point of departure for an increasing number of industrial products. So, they need good quality metal powder because the quality of the powder strongly affects the behaviour of the component. Then of course, you will have post treatment, and for that powder is also critical. So, actually, one would need to have customized powder according to the final component application. And that means that there is ample room for powder development for many different applications.
Talking about challenges, additive manufacturing and powder production, for CSM Italy, would be mainly for the localised markets. Usually, powder production doesn’t involve large-volume production. So, we have to be very flexible because every customer is looking for a different product. Catering to the demands of this highly diversified yet localised market will be our biggest challenge in the foreseeable future.
AlCircle: Which are the emerging markets you think will drive the demand for aluminium and its special alloys in 2017 and beyond?
Jacopo Nardi: India, in all the forecasts, is expected to witness an above average growth in the additive manufacturing market; and so this could be very interesting. Aluminium alloys and aluminium special alloys will play a role in it.
The aluminium alloy market is a very niche market. Aluminium powder and alloy production needs a completely different approach, a different business setup, because it caters to specific requirements. Not too many Indian aluminium companies are investing in the domain yet as they do not see the volume there. But we’re quite hopeful that the market will change. Aluminium powder development plants also allow for alloy manufacturing. So, once they are into it they can start producing customized solutions. Needless to say, such businesses will be typical of aluminium powder production and special alloy production. Later, they can expand it for further, advanced product development.
AlCircle: Sustainable manufacturing is increasingly important these days. What R&D initiatives is your company planning to help its customers in this regard?
Jacopo Nardi: We are approaching the topic of batteries, which remains an area of strong interest as far as sustainable energy storage is concerned. We are developing a new alloy (Al-based, Ni-based and Co-based), processes and technologies for (metal) powder production. We are also providing support for the specification of new products and the definition of new quality standards.
Other than this, we are also investing in new equipment to further strengthen our additive manufacturing segment and coating capacity. We have already invested in some new equipment called Cold Spray. It is used to coat metal surfaces with metal powder, and can be used at relatively cold temperatures. In addition, the equipment offers many of the capacities that other hot spray machines do. It allows you to have more layers on thinner surfaces.
AlCircle: What is your opinion about China as a competitor as well as a market?
Jacopo Nardi: China is moving – moving very fast. We have first hand experience with the situation of a new player. The company was completely diversifying its business from what it was doing previously. It decided to enter into mother alloy production. The final product was billet, but the process involved production of special alloys. Their target market was the aeronautical application sector through production of aeronautical-grade special alloys for some big Chinese projects. From the insight we gained into the industry we can definitely say that the prospects are huge in China. The infrastructure there is very impressive. If you think about the nationalisation of C919 passenger jet or other aircraft they are developing, China is definitely creating a wider scope for domestic additive manufacturing of metal alloys and powders.
I have a similar outlook for India. The country will play a similar role in the near future, but maybe in a more moderate way.