Metal additive manufacturing (AM) is revolutionizing the manufacturing sector. It offers a fast, material efficient alternative to traditional processes like forging and casting to create lightweight parts with added functionality. But to make metal AM truly competitive, high-performance raw materials are needed. These are powders that are small in size, uniform in composition and high in degree of sphericity and low in oxygen content, all essential to ensure the printing speed and precision of the printer is maintained.
A wide range of different metals can be used in 3D printed parts including titanium, aluminium, stainless steel, cobalt chrome, nickel-based alloys and precious metals like gold, silver, platinum and palladium. In addition, the choice of the appropriate metal depends on part specifications and application as well as other factors such as cosmetic quality requirements, mechanical properties and the availability of resources for production.
One challenge of using metal 3D printing is the difficulty in transporting raw materials. To overcome this issue, Metal Powder Works has developed a new technology called DirectPowder that allows for a mobile unit to feed freshly created powders directly into a SP3D machine. This eliminates the need to carry canisters of powdered metals, allowing military units and other users on-site, expeditionary manufacturing.
The main metal additive manufacturing processes include a powder bed fusion process, which uses a programmable laser or electron beam to fuse finely ground metal particles together in an inert gas environment. The process is incredibly accurate and produces strong, dense components with complex geometries, but large hollow sections are not possible without support structures.