Ontario-based materials engineering firm Equispheres brought in a good amount of investment funding in 2020 to help scale production of its metal 3D printing powder, which it creates using a patent-pending atomization technology that can make spherical metal powder specifically for AM. Now the company is partnering with Aconity3D, a systems provider for flexible, custom metal 3D printers, to achieve faster print speeds for part production by pairing its aluminum powder with Aconity3D’s 1 kW MIDI 3D printing system.
According to Evan Butler Jones, the Director of Applications Engineering at Equispheres, the company’s uniform, spherical powder works well with the “precision and configurability of the Aconity3D system.”
“Most importantly, the powder can absorb the energy from the powerful 1 kw laser without disturbing the stability of the melt pool,” he continued. “This is not attainable with standard aluminum powders.
“We are pleased to partner with Aconity3D on this initiative. Combining their expertise with AM systems and our expertise in powders provides a powerful solution to the market.”
Aconity3D has been testing out Equispheres’ aluminum powder to see if it can be used internally to print a part for its printer line’s important AconitySCAN component. The goal was to print the part at a lower cost and higher speed than most standard powders are capable of delivering, and according to the two companies, their results show that the part can be printed in “60+% less time” without causing a negative impact on its mechanical properties.
“This dramatic reduction in production time reduces the cost to produce the part by greater than 50%. More importantly, it enables Aconity3D to produce our printers more quickly and meet the growing demand for our systems,” said Yves Hagedorn, Managing Director of Aconity3D.
“We want our customers to have the best production experience when they utilize our specialized printer equipment. The best way to showcase our devices is to equip them with the best powder.”
In order to optimize the process and lower costs even more, Aconity3D is planning more testing with the Equispheres powder. Additionally, the two companies are working on an agreement that will allow Aconity3D to directly provide its customers with Equispheres powder as a starter kit.
Its partnership with Aconity3D isn’t the only one Equispheres announced recently—the company is also collaborating with laser metal fusion (LMF) and laser metal deposition (LMD) solutions provider TRUMPF to qualify its high-performance aluminum additive manufacturing powders. Once this process is done, Equispheres will be recognized as one of TRUMPF’s recommended powder suppliers, and applications engineers at both companies will support the materials.
“TRUMPF’s engineering team is working to determine the optimum parameters for faster production of aluminum parts with Equispheres’ powders,” explained Thomas Bloor, Head of Global Business Development for Equispheres. “This will allow customers to reduce production costs for 3D printed parts and opens the door for more broad adoption of additive production in global manufacturing.”
Equispheres offers three lines of LPBF-optimized AlSiMg10 powders, and TRUMPF, a metal AM leader with production facilities in Austria, France, Italy, Poland, the US, Japan, Germany, Switzerland, Great Britain, Mexico, China, and the Czech Republic, is reporting that the initial results with these aluminum powders on its TruPrint systems have been good.
“Equispheres’ powders have the potential to support faster build rates than some other aluminum feedstocks,” said Severin Luzius, Head of Application, Materials and Consulting AM at TRUMPF. “To help our 3D printing customers reduce part costs and make the move into mass production, we are developing optimized processing parameters for Equispheres’ high-quality metal powders.”
With its expertise in applications engineering and extensive knowledge of powder metallurgy, Equispheres brought several high-speed commercial reactors online earlier this year to help create its proprietary spherical aluminum powders, and third-party testing has supposedly demonstrated that these powders, with a much faster print time and enabling 50% part cost reductions, make it possible to compete, at least on an economic level, with conventional forms of manufacturing. The company is also working to qualify its materials for industrial applications with partners in the aerospace, automotive, and defense industries.
Bloor said, “This will be a significant step forward for our material. For part manufacturers to receive the maximum benefit from our superior feedstock, processing parameters must be adjusted. TRUMPF’s
qualification work will give users of TRUMPF equipment a productivity and cost advantage when using Equispheres aluminum powders.”
The Equispheres partnership was announced around the same time the industry learned that TRUMPF had fully acquired its Italian metal AM partner SISMA S.p.A., which happened just months after it sold a controlling majority interest in metal LPBF company One Click Metal. An increased focus on high-performance metal powders seems to indicate even more strongly that the German family-owned company will be concentrating on industrial applications.
TRUMPF expects that it will finish the qualification process for Equispheres’ aluminum powders by early 2021.
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