Using this breakthrough technique to build a better future

Did you know that the waste generated from manufacturing a typical smartphone can be 200 times the phone’s weight? Smartphones contain highly complex combinations of valuable raw materials. Extracting and processing these materials can create huge amounts of waste. But, with the need to take action on natural resource depletion becoming more urgent, manufacturers of smartphones and other products will need to lower the impact of their operations – and fast.

One thing that could help them is additive manufacturing (AM) – sometimes referred to as 3D printing. This emerging technology builds structures or components layer-by-layer using various raw materials. One of its key advantages is that, as an additive process, AM is inherently less wasteful than its counterpart, subtractive manufacturing, enabling significant material savings.

A whole world of sustainability benefits

And that’s not all. In fact, AM’s large-scale adoption could bring about a sustainable revolution across value chains – a potential that The Additive Manufacturing Special Interest Group has identified. For instance, it allows manufacturing to become more localized – dramatically reducing the environmental impact of logistics. Additionally, recycled materials are often suitable for use as AM input, while its print-to-order potential enables reduced inventory waste.

What’s more, by redesigning products and processes for AM, manufacturers can improve efficiency during both production and use. Components manufactured using AM are often lighter, generating less material consumption during manufacturing and less energy consumption during use. On top of this, AM often delivers longer product lifetimes – for instance, by enabling the quick production of replacement parts, improved functionality and durability, or modular design that allows for upgrades. Finally, by enabling flexibility in location, AM allows for shorter, simpler value chains.

Consistent material quality is key

To obtain these benefits, manufacturers must not only ensure that their materials are sustainable, they must also carefully select them for consistent quality. This is because the quality of AM input materials directly affects the quality of the final component or product. In metal powder-bed manufacturing, a particularly large number of powder factors can affect the quality of the final part – such as particle size and shape, porosity, chemistry, and impurities.

What’s more, when using recycled powders, the risk of mechanical damage, oversized particles, or surface oxide layer formation increases. So, to take full advantage of AM’s sustainability benefits while ensuring that their materials don’t compromise final part quality, manufacturers must ensure they can reliably characterize and optimize their materials.

Characterization solutions to unlock sustainability

At Malvern Panalytical, we’ve got several solutions to help manufacturers characterize their materials for metal powder bed processes. For example, particle size distribution affects powder flowability and spreadability, powder bed density, melt energy, and surface roughness. Oversized particles are a particular risk in recycled powder. Alongside this, particle morphology also matters: smooth, spherical particles aid flowability and enable dense packing. To help manufacturers achieve this, we offer laser diffraction and automated imaging systems for analyzing particle size and morphology.

Next to size and shape, particles’ chemical composition is also important, particularly when using recycled powders, as contamination is more likely. To enable manufacturers to check for impurities and assess the elemental composition of any alloys used, we offer dedicated X-ray fluorescence (XRF) solutions. Available in both floor-standing and benchtop systems, many manufacturers are already using these to analyze the chemical composition of their powders.

Lastly, we provide X-ray diffraction (XRD) solutions to help manufacturers optimize microstructure. Crystalline phases and grain structures within the metal powders used in AM can affect the mechanical properties of the manufactured part, influencing features like its fatigue response. Our XRD tools can help manufacturers measure these properties in order to achieve consistent microstructures like those produced by conventional processes.

What’s more, we also offer solutions suitable for polymer AM methods, such as automated imaging and gel permeation chromatography (GPC). In our whitepapers and on our website, you can find out all about how to use these solutions to measure your particle properties and open up a whole new world of sustainability benefits. A brighter, healthier future is on the horizon!

To find out more about how we can help manufacturers realize the sustainability benefits of additive manufacturing, visit our additive manufacturing website pages. Or, register for the upcoming webinar ‘Additive Manufacturing of metal alloys: Why XRD is an important tool for characterizing metal powders and built components‘ on November 19th.

If you enjoyed this blog, make sure to read our other AM stories which we’ve listed for your convenience in this blog: A look back at this year’s best additive manufacturing blogs.