To date, the 3D printing revolution has focused on the use of plastics – cheap printers' feedstock and high throughput. Until now 3D printing with metal has been prohibitively expensive because of the cost of titanium powders which currently sell for $200-$400 per kilogram.
Rotherham based company Metalysis has developed a new way of producing low-cost titanium powder, which might pioneer a new era in additive layer manufacturing, seeing an increase in the use of titanium in components across the automotive, aerospace and defence industries.
The Renishaw 3D printer, based at the Mercury Centre within the Department of Materials at the University of Sheffield, made the parts and showcased the advantages of producing titanium components using additive layer manufacturing.
The Metalysis process is said to be ‘radically cheaper and environmentally benign compared with existing titanium production methods.’ 3D printing brings further cost benefits, especially for car manufacturers, 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.
Professor Iain Todd, Director of the Mercury Centre explained: “There are significant challenges to overcome in taking emerging technologies like metallic 3D printing from the lab to production, not least of which is material cost. The step-change 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.”
In addition to titanium, Metalysis is developing tantalum powder and will use its technology to produce a wide range of specialist metals (including rare earths). Metal powders created by the Metalysis process can be engineered to get particle size and distribution correct for a range of PM applications.
University of Sheffield Vice-Chancellor, Professor Sir Keith Burnett, said: “We are delighted that this innovative work is being undertaken in the University of Sheffield’s world-leading Faculty of Engineering.”
“Most people associate 3D printing with plastic parts, but, with Metalysis’ titanium powder, we have for the first time demonstrated its potential in the manufacturing of metal parts. This is potentially a significant breakthrough for the many sectors which can benefit from its low-cost production. We look forward to continue working with Metalysis as they develop this ground-breaking technology”.
Dion Vaughan, CEO of Metalysis added: “The Metalysis process could reduce the price of titanium by as much as 75 per cent, making titanium almost as cheap as specialty steels. We believe that titanium made by the Metalysis process could replace the current use of aluminium and steel in many products. This world-first for a titanium 3D printed component brings us a step closer to making this a reality.”