The National Research Council (NRC) of Canada and GE Additive company AP&C have introduced a new process for testing the quality of metal powders for additive manufacturing. The new method, which can detect even low concentrations of contaminating particles in powders, could help to ensure stronger, cleaner and more reliable 3D printed parts for medical and aerospace applications.
The new powder testing process relies on x-ray micro-computed tomography and 3D image analysis to detect foreign particles in metal powders. According to the NRC of Canada and AP&C, the method is more “sensitive and discriminating” than existing chemical analysis processes and can detect and visualize every foreign particle in a batch of powder, measuring its size, brightness and overall concentration.
“We hope this new method will support the industrial adoption of 3D printing and ease its implementation in highly regulated environments such as the aerospace and medical devices industries,” commented Louis-Philippe Lefebvre, Powder Forming Team Lead at the Medical Devices Research Centre, NRC. “As a leader with over 30 years of experience in powder metallurgy and additive manufacturing, the National Research Council is pleased to have joined forces with AP&C to improve the reliability of the manufacturing process and metal powder behaviour.”
Working together, AP&C and the research council validated the testing process using titanium powders to be used for aerospace components. Presently, the team is expanding the powder testing capabilities beyond titanium to other materials and metals, including nickel alloys. The process could be extremely beneficial for ensuring the quality of recycled powders for safety-stringent applications.
“The competitiveness of 3D printing relies heavily on the capability of machine users to recycle their powders; however, the industry is concerned that foreign particles will be introduced in the feedstock as the powder is recycled,” elaborated Frederic Larouche, Executive Vice President & CTO of AP&C. “The method we are developing could help confirm that the feedstock maintains the utmost cleanliness during processing.
“Leveraging our complementary research and development competencies should help speed the development of 3D printing technologies. Our partnership with the National Research Council, a recognized research organization with deep expertise in powder metallurgy and materials characterization, is supporting Advanced Powders & Coatings’ growth and allows us to offer better-integrated solutions to our partners.”
AP&C, a Canadian company which supplies metal powders, has reportedly been working in collaboration with the NRC for over six years. Together, not only have they been working on validating the powder testing technique, but they have also developed and characterized titanium and nickel superalloy powders for AM, injection moulding and other metal manufacturing processes.
The ongoing collaboration will see them develop processes for improving the flow of metal powders throughout the 3D printing process by measuring how spherical and porous the metal particles are.
Just last month, GE-owned AP&C acquired the gas atomizer equipment from Italian company Avio Aero. AP&C, to contextualize, was acquired by GE through its Arcam acquisition in 2014 (Arcam had previously acquired AP&C). Avio Aero, for its part, recognized as one of the largest AM factories in the world, was also acquired by GE Additive. Currently, there are 21 Arcam machines in operation at the Avio Aero plant in Cameri, Italy.