It seems like every time I turn around, I’m learning of more and more innovative 3D printing news coming from Canada. There’s Ottawa Hospital’s 3D printing program, the 3D printer-equipped Create Cafe in Saskatoon, the recent Be3D 3D printing conference in Toronto, aspiring fashion designers using 3D printing, a 3D printed satellite bracket, and of course, Dr. Julielynn Wong and 3D4MD’s work on sending 3D printed medical supplies to space for the first time.
Back in 2015, high-tech Canadian company PyroGenesis, which specializes in the development, design, manufacturing, and commercialization of advanced plasma processes, plasma torch products, and plasma waste-to-energy systems, made good on its contract to ship ten of its metal 3D printing powder production systems to a major international manufacturer in Asia, and soon after filed a provisional patent for its 3D printable powder production process. After spinning its 3D printing business off into a new entity for the purposes of distributing its metal powder systems and equipment, the company said that its first powder production system would become operational by the end of the first quarter of 2017, and the day has finally arrived!
PyroGenesis has announced that assembly is complete for the system. Its first powder run has been reported to have exceeded expectations, and the system ramp-up, expected to take place over four months, has already begun.
Pierre Carabin, Chief Technology Officer of PyroGenesis, said, “The first production run not only exceeded our expectations in terms of powder quality and production rate, but it also marked both the official start of the ramp-up period and a critical step in achieving our stated goal to become a leading supplier of high purity powders catering to the Additive Manufacturing Industry. The first powders produced were Ti-6Al-4V, one of the most sought after powder on the market. In addition, the System will allow PyroGenesis to produce other materials such as Titanium alloys and nickel based superalloy materials.”
The company’s innovative, patent-pending Plasma Atomization Process (PAP) is used to make small, uniform, and fully dense spherical metal powders. The powders, which are a big-ticket item in the additive manufacturing industry, can actually flow like water. PyroGenesis first started producing the powders with this unique technology in the early 2000s, for the biomedical industry. Two years ago, the company invested roughly $2M to improve the particle size distribution and the production rate for the technology, which resulted in the provisional patent being filed, and the company decided to produce powders for the additive manufacturing sector. PyroGenesis expects to make many of its powder production systems, to “address this increasing need for metal powders in the Additive Manufacturing industry.”
“Although we were confident we would complete the System and first run on schedule and on budget, it is always nice to tick that box. We were challenged at times by significant delays from suppliers, but it is a testament to the dedication and commitment of PyroGenesis’ team that we make this announcement today. A dedication and commitment one can expect to see throughout this project,” said P. Peter Pascali, President and CEO of PyroGenesis.
The process works by feeding preheated and prequalified wire to the apex of three converging plasma torches. The 10,000°C plasma plumes melt the wire and shear off off the metal, which creates tiny, molten droplets. The droplets fall into an argon-filled, water-cooled chamber below, and are collected in their spherical, fine powder form. Finally, the powders are sieved in an inert atmosphere in order to create its proper size distribution. PyroGenesis will initially focus on making pure Ti-6AI-4V and Titanium (CP Ti) powders, but will at a later date focus on producing other metal powders as well. The powders produced during the company’s four-month ramp-up phase will be available for purchase.
Pascali said, “”What is noteworthy, beyond the technical successes announced today, is the continued interest we are receiving for the supply of our powders from potential customers, the volume of which, and from whom the interest is coming from, continues to take us all by surprise. We did not expect this type of interest before ramp-up was complete, and we would consider any sample orders (i.e. up to 500kg) made before ramp up is complete, to be very significant, and a further validation of our strategic decision to move into powder production.”
The company’s core competencies, and ISO certified operations, allow it to forge ahead in providing customers all around the world with high-temperature metallurgical processes, engineering services, plasma waste processes, and plasma torches. It also provides contract research, manufacturing and engineering expertise, and turnkey process equipment packages to several different industries, including additive manufacturing as well as environmental, mining, defense, metallurgical, and oil and gas.
“As mentioned before, there are many factors which set us apart from all other powder producers. For one, the fact that PyroGenesis is the inventor of Plasma Atomization, and has one of the largest concentrations of plasma expertise under one roof, has enabled the Company to not only improve the process significantly, but allow it to continuously improve and thereby enable Additive Manufacturing. Let us not forget that PyroGenesis has produced Titanium powders in the past, and is not new to this prospect,” said Pascali.
“Add to this the fact that there is serious consolidation taking place in the industry which is exasperating an already serious lack of powder suppliers, particularly of the characteristics we supply, all bodes well for PyroGenesis’ strategy to supply unique powders to the Additive Manufacturing industry. In short, we remain confident, and recent events including such a successful first powder production run, have only made us more optimistic than ever before, that PyroGenesis will quickly become a leading metallic powder supplier to the Additive Manufacturing (3D Printing) industry.”
You can take a look at the unique Plasma Atomization Process in the video below:
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