Thales has established a facility in Morocco that will specialize in additive manufacturing of metal parts for aerospace. This global center of Thales’s additive manufacturing activities occupies 1,000 square meters in the Midparc zone of Casablanca and will eventually employ 20 to 25 engineers and technicians. It now has two selective laser melting (SLM) machines that will fabricate complex metal parts from aluminum and titanium powder. But Pierre Prigent, Thales country director for Morocco, says it will eventually acquire eight more additive manufacturing machines.
Prigent says the new facility follows from a strategic cooperation initiative Thales signed in 2011 with Morocco. The initiative aimed to develop Thales’s position in Morocco, while supporting technology innovation through training and research. Thales has agreed to another partnership in aerospace and cyber security with the International University of Rabat in April 2013, a partnership that is also under development.
The new facility has been developed in speedy steps. The project was launched in 2015. The next year, Thales optimized layout for the supply chain and for advanced manufacturing, began construction and started training engineers and technicians in additive manufacturing. This year, the two SLM machines were installed and are now being qualified. The machines have begun by manufacturing validation prototypes. Over the next two years, 2018 and 2019, Thales plans to ramp up production to attain the maturity necessary for making validated, repeatable and reliable parts.
Thales has invested €15 to €20 million in the Casablanca center and has already hired seven Moroccan engineers and technicians. In addition to the 20 to 25 staff who will eventually work at the center, Prigent expects to employ about a hundred staff at subcontractors in Morocco.
Prigent says the additional eight machines will be acquired over the next five years. In addition to SLM, the center will use powder bed laser fusion, a process Thales has already tested for aerospace uses. “The two metals concerned are aluminum and titanium, both of which are frequently used in aeronautics, but it’s entirely plausible that Thales will look into other processes in the future, such as powder spraying.”
The OEM wants the center to support its own and its customers’ needs for additive manufactured metal parts globally. It has already used additive techniques to supply its Thales Alenia Space unit. For example, “a satellite antenna needs to be fixed onto a mount,” Prigent explains. “Those mounts are a good example of metallic parts manufactured by 3D printing within our factory.” He predicts the new Moroccan center will produce mostly for components for aerospace.