Net Shape Processing

Technical Applications


Net shape processing refers to any manufacturing process which creates an object in its finished form without the need for finish machining or other actions.


The obvious benefit is in the saved labor needed for finishing, and the consequent cost savings. Less obvious is the potential for quicker production, which fits better the overall lean production paradigm. Net shape processes are as familiar as the forming of glass bottles or the injection molding of simple plastics. What is new is the applicability of these methods to new materials. An example that appears to be important to the Partnership for a New Generation Vehicle is production of polymer composite parts where small fibers are included in an injection system. Other techniques, such as superplastic forming, are applicable to other materials, in this case, superalloys.


The major contribution of net shape processing is to job creation and economic growth because it enables cost reduction in the manufacturing process and makes some applications economically feasible. For example, net shape processing is important for economic fabrication of potential next generation vehicle power plants such as small gas turbines. Additionally, injected composite parts are likely to play a large role in the weight reduction sought in the program. Net shape processing contributes to other sectors of the economy by improving economic feasibility of working with non-traditional materials, e.g., superalloys and ceramics for turbine blades. Net shape processing contributes to national security by contributing to the strength of the industrial base.


Europe and the United States are essentially equal in application of superplastic forming (SPF) of titanium and aluminum products. European firms have used SPF to produce secondary aircraft structural components. France's ACB Alsthom is equal to U.S. firms in development of commercial SPF press equipment and systems. The UK Superform Company leads the world in aluminum SPF, and its French and U.S. subsidiaries provide those countries with substantial capability. Japan trails slightly, but has a very strong research program that may contribute to an eventual lead in some aspects of the technology. However, their small aerospace industry has generated few practical applications. No country has mastered solid state bonding of aluminum SPF components in the same processing step.