Let’s get straight to the point. The quality and cleanliness of the metal powder used in Additive Manufacturing (AM), directly affects process productivity and final part integrity. In other words, the properties of the metal powder are of critical importance for manufacturing high-value components.

Historically, the main research & development focus has been on the development of the AM machines and manufacturing process. The focus was less on powder re-use. This has led to non-optimized powder recycling strategies with associated risks around operator health, powder exposure, and powder traceability.

But it’s not just additive manufacturing where issues around powder handling are encountered – it’s a problem that impacts many industries that utilize powders in their production process, such as batteries, catalysts, pharmaceuticals, and ceramics for example.

Challenges come in all shapes and sizes

Some basic challenges that the metal AM industry face that are likely common to other industries also, include:

Machine utilization

  • Non-standardized equipment
  • Process inefficiencies
  • Powder variation over time

Powder exposure

  • Operator ingestion of particulates
  • Powder contamination
  • Moisture ingress

The digital thread

  • Unconnected software systems
  • Antiquated methods of data capture
  • Traceability

Figure 1 shows the areas of risks associated with powder processing during a value high value additive manufacturing process. It demonstrates that there are 20 instances within a standard AM process that could effectively lead to a part failure with massive cost implications to AM part producers.

Figure 1. The basic flow for metal AM processes with areas of risk

An effective solution for powder management and recycling

The good news is, we can now detect or eliminate some of these problems before or as they occur with technology developed as part of a collaborative project called PowderCleanse. The PowderCleanse project was made up of a consortium of five partners. Those partners include Carpenter Additive (lead partner), Malvern Panalytical, Farleygreene, MTC and Aegleteeq, under funding awarded by Innovate UK. We commenced the project in April 2017 and progressed through nine distinct phases from market intelligence through design and lab testing, to system builds, integration and testing. The result is a prototype powder recycling system like that illustrated in Figure 2.

Figure 2. An illustration of the PowderCleanse system

The system combines automated sieving (Sievgen 04) with in-line particle sizing (Insitec) to remove oversize particles while certifying that the recycled powder has the correct particle size distribution. The system is also capable of detecting sieve mesh damage that could result in oversize particles or contaminants being retained in the recycled powder. This unit is integrated with Carpenter Additive’s Hopper. Hopper is a foundational piece of equipment to facilitate closed-loop powder handling between operations and is a certified solution for safe transportation and storage. To see the system in action, check out our video below:

As stated earlier, many of the problems addressed by PowderCleanse are not unique to metal AM so we see elements of the system having applications in other industries also – particularly those where particle size and powder quality are considered process critical.

Perfect your powder management with PowderCleanse technology

So, if you’re seeking to improve the handling, recycling and quality of your powders during processing, or if you just want to validate your sieving process, then maybe PowderCleanse is for you. If you’d like to find out if, or how, it can help your process, then why not join the PowderCleanse closing event on July 22nd? During the webinar ‘Introducing PowderCleanse: An automated closed-loop powder recycling system for additive manufacturing’ we will provide an overview of both the project and the system capabilities, as well as a demonstration.