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A peek inside Norsk Titanium's high-tech, 3-D printing shop

Jul 04, 2017 — by Zach Hirsch (Plattsburgh Correspondent) , in Plattsburgh, NY

One of Norsk's Rapid Plasma Deposition machines. Photo: Zach Hirsch

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Jul 04, 2017 — Norsk Titanium has become a huge source of pride for people in Plattsburgh.

It's a Norwegian aerospace company that makes airplane parts using high-tech, industrial, 3-D printing machines. The plant opened last year, and recently Norsk delivered its first federally approved parts for Boeing commercial airplanes.

The 3-D printing technology is at the cutting edge in the aerospace industry. Business leaders have called this the next industrial revolution. We visited the company's research and testing facility to see how it works.

The 3-D printers looked like long, supersized computer towers. A mechanical arm with little torches on the end shot a hot beam – fiery plasma – at a piece of titanium, melting it into shape and creating an intensely bright light.

“Don’t look at the beam, it’s going to hurt your eyes a lot,” said senior project manager Chaster Johnson.

<a href="" title="Norsk Titanium's patented Rapid Plasma Deposition technique in action. Photo: [url=]Norsk Titanium via YouTube[/url]." target="_blank" class="readableLinkWithLargeImage">
<img src="" alt="Norsk Titanium's patented Rapid Plasma Deposition technique in action. Photo: Norsk Titanium via YouTube." id="exifviewer-img-2" />
Norsk Titanium's patented Rapid Plasma Deposition technique in action. Photo: Norsk Titanium via YouTube.

Through a protective lens, the torches looked like something straight out of Star Wars – two green lightsabers.

That comparison made Johnson laugh. “There’s a lot of dynamics going on between those two lightsabers to get the quality you need into the part,” he said.

The torches were in a sealed chamber, behind a window. Titanium wire was carefully fed into the chamber from a spool. The whole machine was operated by just one or two people.

Johnson moved here from Georgia, where he worked for a company that used a more standard process called forging. “It’s a different beast than this. Forging - you hear slamming, it’s very noisy,” Johnson said.

Senior project manager Chaster Johnson. Photo: Zach Hirsch

They’d heat up a big block of metal in a furnace for hours, then carve away until they got the right shape, creating lots of waste. This rapid plasma technique doesn’t create that kind of waste. It’s relatively fast, cheap, and clean, according to Norsk. “It’s a very environmentally friendly process,” Johnson said. “There’s no smoke, there’s no toxins or anything coming out of the titanium as it’s being melted.”Only argon comes out – an inert, nontoxic gas that’s already abundant in the air.

About 30 people work here. Norsk expects to create up to 400 jobs as it expands. Out in the lobby and company museum area, CEO Warren Boley, Jr. said this is just the beginning.

“This is a development and qualification center. Having customers come, see the technology, approve it. And it will evolve into production here, and then 500 yards down the road at the old Clinton terminal, a larger facility will be built with more production machines,” he said, referring to the former Clinton County airport building.

Warren Boley, Jr. (center) speaking with former Congressman Bill Owens and Garry Douglas of the North Country Chamber of Commerce in 2016. Photo: Pat Bradley, WAMC

Boley didn’t say who the customers are. But Norsk has announced partnerships with Spirit Aerospace, Airbus, Alcoa, and Boeing. Just a couple of weeks ago, the company delivered its first parts of a Boeing Dreamliner 787 – the first FAA approved, 3-D printed aerospace components to be used in a commercial airplane, according to Norsk.By the end of the year there will be 20 of the rapid plasma machines here, Boley said, and at least 32 machines by the end of next year. As production picks up, so will the hiring.

“We do get a tremendous amount of resumes on a daily and weekly basis, and we’re going to hire the best talent,” Boley said.

He added that the next phase will start in the coming weeks, when they break ground on the main factory.

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