Equispheres’ Aluminum Alloy Powders Can Be Used in Binder Jet 3D Printing Process

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Last summer, Lockheed Martin invested $5 million, under the Industrial Regional Benefits (IRB) and Industrial Technological Benefits (ITB) Policy, in Canadian materials science company Equispheres. This company focuses on engineering and additive manufacturing applications, and developed a patent-pending atomization technology that is able to produce completely spherical metal powder, with characteristics that are of high value in both the automotive and aerospace industries. Using these materials, it’s possible for companies to manufacture more reliable metal parts with superior mechanical properties.

It looks like this investment has paid off, as Equispheres used the funds to keep conducting design, development, and research work, as well as increase growth in providing high-quality 3D printing materials. Now, the company has announced the results of a barrage of tests, which ultimately found that its aluminum alloy powers are well-suited for use with binder jet technology; this was not possible until now. This bodes well for additive manufacturing in the automotive industry, because aluminum alloys represent over 30% of its entire material demands.

Equispheres CEO, Kevin Nicholds, is positioned to disrupt the AM industry with new metal powder technology.

We are excited about the industry response to our unique aluminum sintering results,” stated the Equispheres CEO, Kevin Nicholds. “Although binder jet printer technology offers the speed and cost reductions necessary to enable additive manufacturing to meet the requirements of automotive mass production, the inability to print with aluminum alloys has been a major limitation to the technology – until now.”

Equispheres completed the powder research, which has some pretty big implications for 3D printing mass production, in partnership with McGill University, located in Quebec. 

The unique and tailored attributes of Equispheres powder have proven exceptional in compaction free sintering. We are excited to begin work with Equispheres’ binder jet printing partners in the next phase to fully understand all aspects related to sintering of complex shape components and the fundamental relations with new specialized binder agents,” said Dr. Mathieu Brochu, an Associate Professor at McGill and the Canada Research Chair in Pulse Processing of Nanostructured Materials.

Scanning Electron Microscope photo of Equispheres novel powder.

Binder jet 3D printing is a popular, scalable AM technology for ceramics due to its efficiency – it runs 100 times faster than laser-based systems, which means it could definitely be used in terms of mass production. But, the method has been held back because it wasn’t capable of sintering aluminum alloys. Thanks to the joint research from Equispheres and McGill University, this is no longer the case.

Based on this research, Equispheres was able to develop the aluminum alloy powder – an extremely sought-after production material – so that it could be used in binder jet printing. The company is now working with additional partners to further develop more specialized binder agents that are necessary for aluminum, in addition to automotive applications.

The findings show the following:

  • good densification (>>95%) andexcellent microstructure 
  • compaction-free, sub-solidus sinteringofEquispheresstandard AlSi10Mg aluminum alloypowder

A guest on a tour of Equispheres’ headquarters in Ottawa, Ontario compares metal powder samples.

As testing continues, Equispheres believes that its powder, combined with the binder jet 3D printing process, will one day be able to set a new standard for critical metal parts.

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[Images: Equispheres]

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