Warsaw University of Technology developed a new solution for lowering the costs of using metal powder bed fusion technologies by affordably atomizing any metal part or scrap. The new rePowder system allows users to produce high-quality powder regardless of the initial form of the feed material. Pure elements, previously produced alloys, but also failed printouts, can be thus easily re-pulverized. The full powder production cycle is performed within one device and, in combination with DMLS printers, creates a closed-loop R&D system in line with the basic principles of the circular economy.
The first to benefit from the new device will be three groups, operating within the faculty, that develop new 3D printed alloys. These are a Biomaterials Group, a Group researching Aerospace Materials and a Structural and Functional Materials Division. “We want the device to serve researchers and promote our technology,” said Łukasz Żrodowski, inventor of the rePowder device and CEO of the Amazemet spin-off that commercializes it.
Today on the market there are several thousand different metallic materials available. However only about 30 of them are used for metal 3D printing. New alloys appear slowly because developing the proper feedstock requires many resources powder to optimize the custom chemical composition. Scientists from the Warsaw University of Technology developed rePowder to address these issues.
Enabling DMLS research
Research on DMLS technology at the Faculty of Materials Science and Engineering started in 2011. “At that time it was a completely new technology in Poland and our first laboratory device, a Realizer SLM 50, was purchased as part of the CePT project,” said Bartłomiej Wysocki PhD, who began his work on metal 3D printing almost 8 years ago. “[…] Since then, we’ve promoted dozens of technologies as part of national strategic projects that we ran in the laboratory. Our work mainly focuses on scaffold materials for bone tissue engineering and regenerative medicine.”
In 2019, the Faculty purchased a new EOS M100 machine, dedicated to the production of materials for aviation and research is currently focused on the production of heat-resistant nickel superalloys. It soon became apparent that DMLS technology can be used to improve material qualities. Not only to manufacture thin-walled cell structures but also for fine-tuning their chemical composition, by carefully controlling oxygen during printing.
“From the very beginning of the laboratory’s operation, we’ve experimented with various titanium alloys, including Ti6Al4V and Ti6Al7Nb, as well as composites based on titanium and ceramics. Since 2014, we have been working on metallic glasses, which ended in their spectacular commercialization by selling the patent application to Heraeus GmBH,” said Bartłomiej Wysocki Ph.D. – supervisor of the biomaterial part of the 3D printing laboratory and CEO of MaterialsCare, which commercializes medical solutions developed in the laboratory.
rePowder for improved metal powders
“Traditional methods of powders production require either high capital expenditure or a multi-stage procedure of forming the material into a wire,” explained Żrodowski. – In both cases, it was not possible to quickly produce a powder suitable for 3D printing on a laboratory scale. Therefore, in 2016, we came up with an idea to create an internally designed device – suited to the technology and the needs of researchers. Instead of producing industrial quantities of materials on large industrial equipment, waiting weeks and paying large sums, scientists can obtain exactly the quantity of material as they need and quickly fine-tune its properties. This will significantly improve their research work.”
“The full use of this effect can be observed in nanocrystalline and amorphous materials – Żrodowski concluded – There are materials with extraordinary properties such as metallic glass from which three-dimensional solid objects are often impossible to produce with other methods. This makes metal 3D printing not only a process of forming a shape, but also the synthesis of materials with improved properties.”