Displaying their offerings at Formnext 2021, advanced materials company 6K Additive and open-source 3D printing hardware developer Freemelt have announced a strategic partnership to develop refractory metal powder for Freemelt’s Electron Beam Powder Bed Fusion (EB-PBF) 3D printer platform, the Freemelt One. The new high-performance materials will be suitable for aerospace, hypersonic and medical applications.
Refractory materials such as tungsten possess many desirable attributes. They are heat-resistant and wear-resistant, and they have a high level of hardness. However, there remains limited production of refractory metal AM materials. Steel, nickel, titanium, aluminum and copper all occupy a larger share of the AM materials market. This is partly due to the very high melting point of refractory metals, with only high-performance L-PBF and directed energy deposition systems (including EB-PBF) capable of processing them.
Tip of the tungsten
However, despite the relative scarcity of printable refractory metals, there is a growing demand for them. “Since the commercial launch of refractory metal powder we’ve seen a ton of interest in refractories — specifically tungsten,” says Frank Roberts, president of 6K Additive.
According to 6K Additive and Freemelt, the new partnership could satisfy that growing demand. The companies say that 6K Additive (a division of Massachusetts-based advanced materials company 6K) has the production expertise and scale to produce refractory performance powders, as evidenced by its new 45,000 sq/ft powder production facility in Burgettstown, PA, complete with two UniMelt microwave plasma systems, which opened in 2020. Meanwhile Freemelt, a Swedish high-tech growth company, provides a platform for printing refractory metal parts to a satisfactory standard. Its Freemelt One system is used primarily for material development.
“The market is consistently asking us for performance materials,” says Dr. Ulric Ljungblad, CEO of Freemelt. “Partnering with 6K Additive gives us and our customers a material supplier that not only delivers high-quality metal powder but is quickly commercializing the sought-after performance materials like tungsten and other refractory metals.”
Freemelt’s open-source Freemelt One platform offers full electron beam control and is used by companies and research institutes. First announced in early 2017, it became the world’s first open-source platform for EB-PBF technology. Shares in Freemelt began trading on the Swedish Nasdaq earlier this year.