Metal powders for AM

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Although thermoplastics drew the most attention in the early days of 3D printing, material options continue to grow. Additive manufacturing (AM) now uses metals, ceramics, glass, composites, graphene-embedded plastics, paper, concrete, food, yarn and bio-inks - used to create artificial organs and soft tissues - among others. In 2017, NASA announced the successful testing of an igniter made of multiple metal alloys. This bi-metallic capability could reduce rocket engine costs by one-third and manufacture time by one-half. In myriad applications, metals and metal alloys have been revolutionary in AM and 3D printing.

Research continues to provide advances in AM, addressing challenges that define which materials can be used, including high melting points, layer thickness, print speed and production capacity. Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory used AM to print composite silicone objects that exhibit shape memory characteristics - and this may only be the start. 

Metal Additive Manufacturing Materials

High-quality metal powder and wire feedstock are very important for successful powder bed fusion in AM. A number of different metals are available in powdered form to suit exact processes and requirements. Titanium, steel, stainless steel, aluminium, and copper, cobalt chrome, titanium and nickel-based alloys are available in powdered form as well as precious metals like gold, platinum, palladium and silver.  

Wire feedstock options are also wide-ranging; steel and stainless steel alloys as well as pure metals like titanium, tungsten, niobium, molybdenum and aluminium are all available as wire feedstock. 

Metal powder

Metal powders

Titanium

Unalloyed, commercially pure titanium has many uses in AM. It is available in grades 1-4. All grades exhibit extreme corrosion resistance, ductility and weldability, although Grade 1 is relatively more formable than Grades 2, 3 and 4. Grade 4 is the strongest. Titanium Grade 2 is a metal offering a desirable balance between formability and strength. It is used to create a wide variety of industrial parts, aerospace and orthopedic prostheses and implants.

Titanium Alloys

In general, titanium alloys are used in AM to produce a wide range of industrial components, including blades, fasteners, rings, discs, hubs and vessels. Titanium alloys are also used to produce high-performance race engine parts like gearboxes and connecting rods. Like cobalt chrome, titanium’s biocompatibility makes the metal a viable option for medical applications, particularly when direct metal contact with tissue or bone is a necessity.

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel used in AM exhibits a number of mechanical properties including hardness, tensile strength, formability and impact resistance. EBM technology uses stainless steel to produce dense, super-strong for extreme environments like jet engines and rockets. In 2016, a feasibility study explored the viability of using low-carbon 316L in EBM machines to produce nuclear pressure vessels. The stainless steel was selected because it is weldable, corrosion-resistant and extremely strong.

Aluminium

Aluminum is sintered in the Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) process or melted in the Selective Laser Melting (SLM) process. Fine detail down to 25 microns and wall thicknesses of as little as 50 microns are possible when aluminum is used. Parts typically have a textured, matte surface which distinguishes them from traditional milled aluminum parts. Due to its low weight, 3D-printed aluminum is used for automotive and racing parts.

Aluminium Alloys

Lightweight aluminum alloys for additive manufacturing are traditionally used in many industrial, aerospace and automotive applications. They possess high strength-to-weight ratios, and they also demonstrate good resistance to metal fatigue and corrosion. One key advantage of aluminum alloy powders is that they typically offer better build rates than other metal powders used in PBF processes.

Precious Metals

It is possible to sinter powdered gold, silver, platinum and palladium for AM in DMLM machines. Extremely fine metal powder is partially melted to create jewelry. Unique and beautiful pieces of jewelry feature interlocking or interwoven designs only possible with AM. Forbes profiled a jeweler creating one-of-a-kind items with six-figure valuations, customized to customer preferences.

Cobalt Chrome Alloys

AM parts are fabricated from alloys like ASTM F75 CoCr when high temperatures resistance, corrosion and wear is critical. It is an appropriate selection where nickel-free components are required, such as in orthopedic and dental applications. Cobalt chrome alloys are used in AM to print parts that often benefit from hot isostatic pressing (HIP) to strengthen grain structures, producing fully dense metal parts.

Nickel-Based Alloys

Inconel 718 and Inconel 625 produce strong, corrosion-resistant metal parts. These alloys are often used in high-stress, high-temperature aeronautical, petrochemical and auto racing environments. The mechanical properties of nickel-based alloys used in AM, such as Inconel 625, are considerably enhanced by the use of significant amounts of nickel, chromium and molybdenum in the metal. It resists pitting and cracking when exposed to chlorides.

AP&C Powders

As specialists in spherical metal powder production designed for additive manufacturing, AP&C offers quality powders for all AM processes. In addition, this level of precision is available at competitive prices–allowing for reliable and cost-efficient production. View AP&C's powder offerings

AP&C Metal Powder pouring