Manufacturing with metal has changed forever
Until now 3D printing with metal has been prohibitively expensive because of the cost of titanium powders that currently sell for $200 – $400 a kilogram.
However, in the UK, Rotherham based company Metalysis has developed a new way of producing low-lost titanium powder, which heralds a new era in additive layer manufacture, and will see greater use of titanium in components across the automotive, aerospace and defence industries.
The Renishaw 3D printer at the University of Sheffield has demonstrated the feasibility of producing titanium components using additive layer manufacturing.
The Metalysis process is radically cheaper and environmentally benign compared with existing titanium production methods, such as the energyintensive and toxic Kroll process.
Currently, the manufacture of titanium powder involves taking the metal sponge produced by the Kroll process, which is then processed into ingot billets, melted into bar form and finally atomised into powder – a costly and labour-intensive four-step process.
Metalysis takes rutile and transforms it directly into powdered titanium using electrolysis, which is cost-effective and is essential to the supply chain; the low-cost titanium powder can be used in a variety of new applications whereas previously the metal has been excessively expensive for use in mass production of lower value items.
Three-D printing brings further cost benefits by reducing waste because the current means of production is subtractive, as components are shaped out of metal billets, which wastes a huge amount of material.
Metalysis’ low-cost titanium powder enables additive manufacturing with its metal powder, thereby reducing the quantity of material required.
Professor Iain Todd says: “The stepchange in terms of process economics that this material breakthrough provides takes us ever closer to the time when 3D printing of metals such as titanium is considered the norm rather than exceptional.”
Metal powders created by the Metalysis process can be engineered to get particle size and distribution correct for a range of PM applications.
Simon Scott of Renishaw looks at a metal engine part made with a 3D printer.