Insights from Formnext Connect 2020 by Benjamin Delignon, Innovation Manager at AMEXCI AB 

This year at Formnext, it seems that all the Material news concerned Metal Powders, with a strong focus on Laser Powder Bed Fusion (L-PBF) and Metal Binder Jetting (MBJ). 

1. Alloyed and its Alloys-by-Design platform

The company Alloyed, based in UK, was created in 2019 as a merge of powder producer OxMet Technologies & experienced AM service provider Betatype. This year at Formnext, they shared details about their Alloys-by-Design (ABD®) platform enabling the selection of the best alloy for an application or to even design a new alloy by defining the alloy chemical composition while taking into account the mechanical properties required and the printing requirements through thermal simulations. 

Through their collaboration with OxMet Technologies and Taniobis – a german powder producer specialised in rare earth materials such as Tantalum and Niobium alloy – their solution could be a valuable tool during the first steps of an application development.

2.Twisting metals chemical composition to improve mechanical properties

AlMgty – Fehrmann ALLOYS’ high-performance aluminum alloy system. Image via Fehrmann ALLOYS.

You may have heard about aluminium alloys showing enhanced mechanical properties such as Scalmalloy®or A20X™. Another one to add to this list is now AlMgty 90, promising unusual high elongation properties through the addition of Magnesium and presented at Formnext by Fehrmann Alloys.

For other high-temperature applications, the AM 100 alloy from Swedish company Kanthal® might be suitable as a valuable complement of Nickel-based alloys. 

High hardness material Vibenite from company VBN is gaining popularity in various industries, and is now used by strong AM companies such as GE. With a similar objective, Kolibri, a german company,  also displayed their stainless steel called “Pacayal” during the event, reaching up to 40 HRC without any consecutive heat treatment.

Combined with a design optimisation process, these uncommon materials could fully exploit the potential of AM technologies and enable the production of cutting-edge applications. Today produced in low volumes, a wider use by key AM players could highly reduced their cost, which is often today the key factor limiting their adoption.

3.Amorphous materials open new possibilities

Expansion sleeve in amorphous metal, picture from Heraeus AMLOY

Amorphous metals have unique material properties such as high strength combined with high elasticity, corrosion resistance and biocompatibility. Heraeus, based in Germany, is one of the leaders for the production of components in amorphous alloys. Zirconium and Copper based alloys are available, and projects to develop other materials such as titanium or platinum alloys are currently on-going.

Through their collaboration with Trumpf, Heraeus is validating several amorphous materials with L-PBF technology. Even if strong design limitations remain (e.g. maximum thickness), this family of materials could enable a broad new range of applications.  

4.Addition of nanoparticles to improve the Metal Binder Jetting Process

The InnoventPro machine from ExOne will be able to use nanoparticles in the new NanoFuseTM Binder. Image from ExOne.

Nano particles have lower melting temperatures than standard AM powders (usually at micrometers scale). From the same material as the final component, they improve the binding of the part and have several benefits, such as increasing the sintered part density, reducing its shape distortion, improving its purity, and resulting in smaller grain size which improve the tensile strength. 

Several universities currently work on this topic and during Formnext ExOne, one of the leading and most experienced company in Metal Binder Jetting technology, shared interesting results before announcing that the use of powder with nano particles addition will be possible around Q4 2021/ Q1 2022 on their latest InnoventPro machine, announced earlier this year.

Improving printing feasibility and material properties, the addition of nanoparticles seems to be a promising solution to simplify industrialisation steps and democratize MBJ technology, but EH&S related topics will also have to be followed closely.

5.Optimisation of Laser Powder-bed process and part properties through nanoparticles addition

Image from Evonik.

Evonik, known for its range of materials used with various polymer printing technologies, displayed during Formnext their latest work on Silica based nanoparticles addition (1%wt). Improving the powder flowability, it also impacts the final component by reducing the grain size in the material and increasing the tensile strength and the micro-hardness.  Developed in partnership with NTU in Singapore, Stainless steel samples are already tested in Laser Powder Bed Fusion, and powder-Directed Energy Deposition possibilities will also be studied.

Despite being at the early stage of its development, silica additives for metallic powders could become a strong tool to improve mechanical properties, or maybe to reduce material cost by using cheaper powders with lower initial flowability (e.g. grains with imperfect spherical shapes).

Other topics worth further readings: multi-material printing with Functional Graded Materials by Insstek  (see feedbacks on machine from Benjamin Haller’s post) and the evolution of 3D printing of ceramics with companies 3DCeramLithoz and Bosch.

About Benjamin Delignon

Benjamin spent 5 years in France, focusing on Aerospace and Defence components produced in various materials and additive manufacturing technologies before joining AMEXCI as Innovation Manager in 2020. He now supports our customers and partners for the development of their applications and education projects.

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