Oct 21, 2016 | By Alec

Metal 3D printing is rapidly becoming a very prominent part of the 3D printing market, transforming metal powders into the fastest-growing segment within the 3D printing materials market as well. While that segment was rather limited in its diversity for a long time, new metal powders with highly appealing characteristics, such as immense strength, reduced weight, biocompatibility and corrosion or thermal resistance, are being developed for applications in aerospace, medical, and other sectors.

But metal powders also come with a range of limitations, mostly born from the fact that these powders have not been manufactured with 3D printing in mind and come in relatively limited quantities. To overcome those issues, metal alloy developer Arconic has just announced that they will be developing what they call proprietary ‘smart ink’ metal powders that have been specifically optimized for the 3D printing of high performance components for aerospace, aviation and automotive applications.

Now if you’re wondering who Arconic is, that might be because they don’t actually exist yet. Starting on November 1st, this will be a spinoff company from metal and manufacturing giant Alcoa. It’s a split that has grown out of Alcoa’s changing market position, as their primary business activities are suffering under an influx of cheap metals sourced from China. It was therefore decided to remove the production the high-quality multi-alloys from their portfolio and house them in a separate company.

As Alcoa chairman Klaus Kleinfeld revealed, they are hoping that this will unlock the value of both separated business activities, free from the vicissitudes of the commodities markets. “The ‘Arconic’ brand fuses our extraordinary heritage with our highly promising future,” said Kleinfeld. “It echoes our 127-year history of invention – and reinvention.”

While the spin-off is thus still a WIP, investors have been very positive since the announcement of these plans in late 2015 – with shares growing significantly. While Alcoa will continue to handle upstream business, the value-added focused Arconic will be a provider of high-performance aluminum material products.

The current expertise of Alcoa will be directly transferred to Arconic – several board members will switch to the new company, with Klaus Kleinfeld serving as Arconic Chairman and CEO. This also includes the material experts themselves, and Arconic argued that they will bring a “100-year history in aluminum metal powder production, primarily for rocket fuel, paint and other products” to the table; the same expertise that invented most of the aluminum alloys used in the aerospace sector today.

But that doesn’t mean they will continue on the path set out by Alcoa. In fact, 3D printing will become a significant element of their new work, in part in a combined platform with traditional manufacturing processes through their patented Ampliforge process. “With the innovation of our metal 3D printing powders and processes, we’re pushing the boundaries of production technologies for aerospace’s high-performance components. Arconic is taking 3D printing out of the lab and into the skies,” they say. Metal 3D printing, it seems, is about to receive a huge boost.



Posted in 3D Printing Materials



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