A team from the Fraunhofer Institute for Manufacturing Technology and Advanced Materials (IFAM) has successfully tested a new type of iron powder for metal additive manufacturing which is much cheaper to produce than spherical powders made by inert gas atomization. The researchers say that the novel powder production method can reduce costs by as much as 90% compared to existing AM powder manufacturing costs.
Up until now, the production of metal AM powders has remained a costly business, relying almost exclusively on inert gas atomization processes, which result in uniform, spherical powders. These high quality powders, though well suited for powder bed AM processes such as selective electron beam melting (SEBM) and Selective Laser Melting (SLM), have come with a price tag that many believe has limited metal AM applications.
To overcome this cost challenge, researchers from Fraunhofer IFAM set out to develop and test an alternative production technique for metal powders. Recently, the team made a breakthrough in the project, by successfully testing an iron powder using an SEBM machine.
In a feasibility study, the Dresden-based team demonstrated that dimensionally stable components could be produced from the iron powder using SEBM technology, despite the powder’s more irregular particle shapes and poorer flowability rates. As the Fraunhofer team succinctly states: the iron powder “is a real low-cost alternative.” In fact, the iron powder used only costs about 10% of current AM powder costs to produce.
Beyond the iron powder tested, the researchers say the powder production method could extend to other materials, providing a low cost alternative for HDH titanium powder and other alloys. The team is currently conducting detailed investigations into various alloy behaviors using the powder production process.
As part of its mandate, the Fraunhofer institute works with industry and research partners on a number of development services, from powder development to component production, through feasibility studies as well as AM powder evaluations and qualifications. The institute also offers its partners full support through component development, from powder, to design (including topology optimization, weight reduction, etc.), to production and post-processing.