Every major system manufacturer and adopter is working on innovations that could make current DED and metal PBF technologies able to deliver larger parts at lower costs. Australia based Titomic already has that capability and is instead working on getting the word out on its Titomic kinetic fusion technology, which can already 9-meter titanium parts, at supersonic speeds and drastically lower material costs.
Titomic Kinetic Fusion process was co-developed in 2010 with Australia’s federal government agency, CSIRO – the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation, to research and develop a new solid-state additive manufacturing process based on an existing coatings technology, Cold Spray, to produce load-bearing 3D forms from metallic and non-metallic powder feedstock. The 2 co-inventors, Mr. Jeff Lang and Professor Richard Fox, explored IP spraying metal powders at supersonic speeds onto a scaffold to build a 3D object. This was found to be a patentable application. The CSIRO patent was licensed and a new company, Titomic, was established to commercialize this technology.
Titomic has the exclusive rights to commercialize CSIRO’s proprietary and patented process for the application of cold-gas dynamic spraying of titanium or titanium alloy particles onto a scaffold to produce a load-bearing structure.
Faster rates, affordable powders
Exactly how fast is Titomic Kinetic Fusion deposition? According to the company it is at least 5 times faster the fastest current DED processes: Sciaky’s wire fed, electron beam melting (EBAM). Using nitrogen or helium to accelerate metal powder to supersonic speeds, generating deposition speeds of up to 45 Kg of material per hour. By comparison, EBAM can deposit materials at 9.07 Kg/hr, powder fed DED can hit 2.9 Kg/hr while wire fed DED (such as Norsk Titanium’s) can reach 2 Kg/hr.
The most significant advantage of Titomic’s process, however, is not just its speed as much as affordability of materials. It may come as a surprise to some that titanium is among the most abundant metals on Earth. One reason that costs are high relates to the highly inefficient Kroll titanium extraction process. Steps for his demanding process include extraction, purification, sponge production, alloy creation, forming and shaping.
“In Australia, we have some of the largest resources with mineral sands containing titanium,” says Jeffrey Lang, Chief Technology Officer at Titomic. “There are a couple of processes that can cost-effectively produce titanium powder straight from the mineral sands without having to go through the Kroll process, which is very energy-intensive. Furthermore, current processes use the extracted titanium powder to produce rods which are later atomized to once again produce the powder.”
“In order to be competitive, the cost of titanium powder for AM needs to drop from the current $300/kg to around $20-50/kg.”
Another reason why current titanium AM is so expensive has to do with the inefficiency of the atomization process. The majority of atomized powders – up to 80% – cannot be used in the AM process due to impurities and imperfections in particle size. This means that the output is inconsistent, prices remain high, and demand is unmet. While this is not currently a major issue in high-cost applications such as medical and aerospace, it limits the widespread adoption of AM technologies for volume batch part production.
“We have contacted as many as 69 suppliers and producers of titanium powders, however, most of these only generate yearly revenues for around one hundred thousand dollars, while the powder producing facilities can cost several million dollars,” says Lang. Without an exponential increase in adoption, the power supply business is not sustainable. “Inefficiencies extend to AM adoption – Lang continues. “Airbus, for example, uses 50 tons of titanium a day in raw materials to produce just 8 tons of parts by traditional subtractive manufacturing (machining). In order to be competitive, the cost of titanium powder for AM needs to drop from the current $300/kg to around $20-50/kg.”
Titomic’s technology, on the other hand, can already use rough titanium powder to produce parts that are as large as 9 x 3 x 1.5 meters. In fact, there is no inherent limit in size. Because no heat is applied, parts don’t warp and don’t present layering. “They are more similar to die cast part – Lang says. We can compete directly with traditional manufacturing: just look at the cost of setting up a new forging facility, with each running $20 million or more. Our systems to replace metal castings & forgings can be set up for under $10 million. Titomic is able to process titanium, which is one of the hardest metals and as such, we can process a wide range of other metals as well.”
“We don’t shy away from the hurdles we have to overcome. The costs for producing long-term structural parts for aerospace can be as high as $4,000,000 for just one part. The structural process time requirement can be up to 200 hours for something as large as the parts we can produce. Our process can do it in 6 hours.”
Jeff Lang, CEO, CTO, Titomic
In fact, Titomic’s focus is on leveraging advanced materials such as superalloys to help customers take advantage of advanced manufacturing processes. Titomic kinetic fusion process is the only process which allows dissimilar metals, alloys, composites and hybrid materials to be fused together without heat, creating new advanced materials and parts componentry with engineered properties not available with any other manufacturing technology.
Titomic offers a range of metal/ alloy powders for additive manufacturing, including proprietary titanium alloy powders for use in Titomic machines. Furthermore, the kinetic fusion is the first additive manufacturing process to mitigate oxidation issues because there is no melting involved as the accelerated metal particles impact to mechanically fuse. There is no heat-related distortion, materials retain their properties. This opens up new design possibilities for clients across industries and a multitude of applications.
Like a printer
There are many ways that potential adopters can benefit from Titomic’s technology. One is through services: the team can validate the process for a specific client, going through all the steps and working out all the variables. Clients can then purchase a machine once the process has been adapted to meet their requirements. Titomic’s long terms business model, however, focuses primarily on providing consumables, the powder materials developed and optimized for all AM systems.
Lang admits there are many hurdles that still need to be overcome for Titomic Kinetic Energy technology to make it into mainstream aerospace production. These include benchmarking both systems and materials as well as devising a safe supply chain for handling large quantities of flammable powders like titanium. The challenges also extend to training and building a qualified workforce as the company grows. At the same time, Lang also maintains that the benefits would amply justify investments.
“We don’t shy away from the hurdles we have to overcome – Lang says. The costs for producing long-term structural parts for aerospace can be as high as $4,000,000 for just one part. The structural process time requirement can be up to 200 hours for something as large as the parts we can produce. Our process can do it in 6 hours.”
You don’t have to be an industry analyst to see the value in these numbers.