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logoTokyo-based Tanaka Holding announced on November 18 that, through Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo, they have become the world’s first company to succeed in the development and formation of platinum-based metallic glass powder for use with Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) 3D Printers. This is big news for the 3D printing materials world; this discovery has the potential to revolutionize the materials used during the SLS process. The company also succeeded in developing platinum group metallic powder using nickel-based alloys with platinum and iridium additives, and even manufactured objects using these powders as a Proof of Concept, proving their materials do in fact work, so much so that they are bringing them to market.

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Platinum-based metallic glass powder material

Tanaka will be exhibiting at Powtex Tokyo 2014 (the International Powder Technology Exhibition Tokyo) next week, from November 26th to the 28th. After showcasing the platinum group of materials at the Big Sight exhibit, sample deliveries will begin December 1st. Which means by December 1st  the true test for the company will have arrived: what do the customers think about their new next-gen materials?

Tanaka obtained a patent for the composition of platinum-based metallic glass in 2004, with successful production taking place only 10 years following, which means it took the company about a decade to work out the kinks to the point where they felt it was ready to be taken to the market — with impeccable timing, might I add. For example, over the past couple years 3D Systems has taken huge steps in regards to SLS machinery, and these materials can be added to those machines giving users the ability to manufacture in three new types of metals. The new discovery could revolutionize SLS machines in terms of their current capabilities; the more materials we can print with, the more complex the structures, prototypes, and parts become.

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In the past, the strengths and true capabilities of 3D printed metals have been questioned, especially by the traditional users within the manufacturing industry, and people are still resistant to the change that is coming from the newer 3D printing and additive manufacturing methodology. However, with the introduction of more resilient, lightweight, and equally stable next generation materials, more industry players from the manufacturing sector will be making the switch from traditional methods of manufacturing to the new more efficient, profitable, and time-saving methods of additive manufacturing. With more materials available to the world of manufacturing, more people will enter that world and accept it as a viable one.

Tanaka’s introduction is one of many to come from a number of different companies, and it sets the stage for a realm of possibilities that has never  before existed. Additive manufacturing, which had originally only provided prototypes and parts, is evolving with the expansion of usable materials into end-use product manufacturing. The use of additive — rather than traditional subtractive — manufacturing techniques can save significant amounts of time, energy, and materials.

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Platinum group metals in particular will be a strong boon to the materials portfolio available for 3D printing. Platinum metals’ high melt points have typically limited their viability for use in manufacturing products that required much complexity. Products that, however, benefit from these metals’ corrosion-resistant nature — like medical and specialty industrial components in the automotive and aerospace industries — can utilize 3D printing technology for small-volume production of finished products. If, of course, Tanaka’s breakthrough is as sound as they promise.

Tanaka Kikinzoku Kogyo is banking on this, though — literally. They’re projecting FY 2020 annual sales of 400 million yen, basing much of the anticipated growth on the use of 3D printing materials including platinum group metallic powders.

A diagram of the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) process.

A diagram of the Selective Laser Sintering (SLS) process.

Let us know your thoughts on this announcement over in the Platinum Group Metal Materials for 3D Printing forum at 3DPB.com.

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