Swedish engineering giant Sandvik has expanded into additive manufacturing (AM) quickly. It previously bought 3T, acquired Proxera, and invested heavily in BeamIT. The company offers sintering powder but also is now supplying parts through its subsidiaries. Now, it has developed a patented process to make cemented carbide parts with 3D printing.
Cemented carbide is a collection of composite materials that are usually extremely hard. Hard-wearing partes are coming into their own in tool and tooling applications, such as cutting tools, drill bits, blades, precision nozzles and the like. Anywhere where impact, abrasion, corrosion, and cutting resistance are super important, cemented carbide materials such as tungsten carbide or titanium carbide play a role. VBN already makes carbide materials for 3D printing, as does the CERATIZIT group, while Kennametal is making cemented carbide with binder jet. Now, Sandvik has developed its own proprietary process for cemented carbide powders.
Discussing the applications of the materials at Sandvik, Anders Ohlsson, Lead Product Manager at Sandvik Additive Manufacturing, says:
“The most critical component in our process is working with powders that have the just-right properties. Above all, high density crucially impacts the quality achievable in terms of material properties and geometry. Sandvik has developed both a powder and a process that are unique. My view is that with commercial powders, you can make things that look cool – but don’t really work. Our powders are optimized to print components that look great, work well – and are fit for use in actual applications, demanding environments, and serial production. It’s also well worth mentioning the ability to 3D print cemented carbide speeds up our time-to-market rather dramatically. Prototyping used to take 6-12 months – and now our lead time to date is a matter of weeks.”
Internally the firm experimented with cemented carbide parts. This has included a wire drawing nib in which closed spiral coolant channels were designed to keep the element cool while protecting the wire being drawn from exposure to the liquid.
“The main enabler behind us continuously building on our additive offering is the fact that at Sandvik, innovation never stops. Thanks to our longstanding experience in materials technology paired with our expertise along the additive value chain, made even stronger by our partnership with the BEAMIT Group, we can innovate at a speed few others can. This makes us uniquely positioned to drive the shift toward the industrialization of 3D printing, and prove sustainable manufacturing isn’t just possible – it’s already happening. 3D printing in cemented carbide is a natural next step for us having perfected these materials for decades, and we are very pleased to offer additively manufactured components that can revolutionize the performance throughout our customers’ businesses,” said Mikael Schuisky, VP and Head of Business Unit Additive Manufacturing at Sandvik.
I think that this is a smart move by Sandvik. Cutting tools are a potentially very lucrative market for AM. Especially internal cooling channels or channels through which compressed air can pass could be very interesting. Imagine a complex tool that you can blow clean after each use or through which you can pump air to make it work faster with a cleaner blade. Or consider foaming nozzles that might work longer than others do. There’s the possibility of other flow components that are very wear resistant, as well.
Uptake in the mining market is still quite low for 3D printing, but it could expand with cases such as this one, particularly given Sandvik’s own mining division. The oil and gas market is expanding its use of 3D printing. In that sector, these hard materials are used widely, making this a complementary development. Cemented carbide 3D printing will definitely be a burgeoning market and could considerably expand their repertoire.
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