Dec 9, 2015 | By Alec

While metal 3D printing is a fabulous technology that is already reinvigorating numerous high quality industries from aerospace to medicine, it is still suffering from one major problem: there are only a few metal powders available. This sometimes still makes traditional manufacturing options more attractive, but it looks like that is changing as well. Thanks to the government-backed Ames Laboratory, high quality, low cost titanium powders for metal 3D printing are now available – opening the way for a large variety of aerospace, automotive and medical instrument applications.


This is the first time that titanium powder becomes commercially available for high volume manufacturing. As you might know, titanium is something of a Holy Grail in manufacturing, due to its immense strength, light weight, biocompatibility and resistance to corrosion. This makes it perfect for anything from implants to spacecraft parts, though it is still very expensive. While it has been 3D printed in single cases before, the ultra-fine powder necessary for, for instance, selective laser sintering 3D printing is nearly impossible to produce. The molten state of liquid titanium is quickly contaminated with gases and are difficult to contain in ceramic melting crucibles, making it a costly and rare material in terms of 3D printing.

All this is now changing thanks to the work of the Ames Laboratory, an institute operated by the Iowa State University and backed by the a U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. They specialize in innovative material technologies and energy solutions, and their work is readily used by NASA and other innovative giants. As their laboratory scientist Iver Anderson explained, titanium powders are the future of high quality 3D printing. ‘Titanium powder made with this technology has huge potential to save manufacturers materials and money,’ he said. ‘Creating titanium powder of high quality at great volumes was what we materials scientists called the Holy Grail of gas atomization.’

Anderson further revealed how they produced commercially viable titanium powders. ‘Our invention of an in-stream melt heating guide tube was critical to boost the melt temperature by at least 100 C, allowing adaptation of water-cooled 'clean' melting technologies, normally used to melt and cast strong, reliable aerospace Ti parts,’ said Anderson. ‘This new 'hot nozzle' made possible precise feeding of highly energetic close-coupled atomizers for efficient production of fine Ti powders.’

So how is this Ames product coming to market? A while ago, two members of Anderson’s research team - Joel Rieken and Andy Heidloff – founded Iowa Powder Atomization Technologies, which licensed titanium atomization patents by Ames Laboratory. That company was taken over by Praxair in 2014 – a Fortune 250 company and a top international competitor in the production of gases and surface coating. It is Praxair that is working to commercially manufacture titanium powders. For more information on getting your hands on the titanium powder, visit the Praxair website here.

But of course, the marketplace is definitely a goal of the Ames Laboratory. ‘We talk regularly about the Department of Energy's goal of transferring research from the scientist's bench to the marketplace. This work is a strong example of how that goal can become reality. The ingenuity and continued hard work and commitment by our scientists and our licensee to get the technology to market cannot be underestimated. They make my job of transferring technology developed at Ames Laboratory into the marketplace so much easier,’ explained Associate Director Debra Covey.



Posted in 3D Printer Company



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