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3D printing: Safran plant rises from the ground


Construction work on the Safran Additive Manufacturing Campus – the Group's forthcoming site dedicated to additive manufacturing – began in the spring. December 3 marks Global 3D Printing Day, so we thought it was a good time for an update on the project's progress.

3D loom : carbon fiber

To bring all skills related to additive manufacturing together in one place: that's the stated aim of the new Safran Additive Manufacturing Campus being constructed in Le Haillan, near Bordeaux. "We have a twofold goal," explains CEO François-Xavier Foubert. Firstly, to accelerate Safran's dominance in a technology whose added value lies not only in the 3D printing itself, but also in the full range of upstream and downstream operations: research, design, production, post-processing and parts control. Secondly, to achieve economies of scale by moving away from an activity that has been spread across the various Group companies and essentially limited to prototyping, towards a streamlined industrial production system."


A low-carbon site

Construction began in April 2020, and is progressing rapidly despite the restrictions imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Structural work is now 100% complete for the portion of the building allocated to operational activities, and two-thirds complete for the service area. Aware that additive manufacturing is a developing technology, Safran has made its architectural choices with modularity at the forefront. "The production processes area has a metal structure that can accommodate large volumes, providing the necessary flexibility to repurpose the space in response to changes in business activity and equipment; large component manufacturing, new machines, etc.", François-Xavier explains.

Another guiding principle for the new site: sustainable development, in line with Safran's low-carbon policy for reducing emissions from its production methods. "As with any new Group site, the building has been eco-designed with the intention of controlling CO2 emissions and, in a more general sense, the eco-footprint of our business activities, says François-Xavier. For example, it has a very powerful waste filtration system. We have also incorporated a heat recovery system to reduce direct energy consumption."


Factory of the future

In accordance with Lean principles, workflows have been designed to streamline the movement of parts within the unit and make the best use of expensive industrial resources: 3D printers, but also machines for post-production operations (cleaning, heat and surface treatments, machining, control, etc.). All this equipment will be connected in order to provide data that will continuously improve process control and, as a result, the quality of the parts produced.

Lastly, research and technology operations will have access to advanced design and testing resources (materials characterization laboratory, experimentation rooms, digital simulation tools) in order to improve understanding of the various additive manufacturing processes. "For now, only the laser powder bed fusion system is operational for production," François-Xavier says. "But we are also working on bringing other promising processes to maturity, such as direct powder deposition and also metal printing by means of binder jetting." 


A resource for Group use

On completion of construction work, scheduled for mid-2021, production will start for the first time in autumn of the same year. "Our main goal is to make additive manufacturing accessible to the greatest number of Safran applications, both for rapid prototyping and mass production, François-Xavier explains. In doing so, we will be giving the Group's entities a technology that differentiates them and enables them to stand out from their competitors." 

The factory will start its work with an order book that is already full; six Safran companies have tasked it with the production of aircraft engines, helicopter engines, nacelles, defense equipment, fuel systems and hydraulic systems. "With these applications, we already offer solutions using aluminum, titanium, Inconel and nickel base alloys. With the advent of new generations of machines and the productivity gains that have been identified, our aim is to offer competitive solutions to all the companies of the Group," François-Xavier declares.