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3D Printing Tungsten Carbide: Kennametal is GE Additive Latest Metal Binder Jetting Partner

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Since it announced work on its metal binder jetting platform in 2017, GE Additive has been adding major development partners, including Cummins, Wabtec, and Sandvik. The newest addition to GE’s Beta Partner Program is Kennametal Inc., as it develops its cemented tungsten carbide materials for 3D printing.

With revenues of $2.4 billion, Kennametal (NYSE: KMT) has been supplying tooling and metals since 1938. And while it had been 3D printing prototypes and cutting tools for some time, it wasn’t until 2019 that it established Kennametal Additive Manufacturing as a business unit. Through that division, it produces metal powders for powder bed fusion, directed energy deposition, and bound metal printing. The company is particularly known for its cobalt chrome alloy, Stellite, as well as tungsten carbide, which became a part of its additive portfolio in 2021.

GE Additive’s Series 2 metal binder jet 3D printer. Image courtesy of GE Additive.

Now, as a part of GE’s beta program, it will further this development. The company will work with GE Additive to scale specific applications for serial production on GE’s binder jetting system. Both Stellite and tungsten carbide offer superior wear, heat and corrosion performance that, when combined with the use of additive, mean potentially ideal solutions to difficult problems. Obviously, this means the ability to shorten lead times and increased performance.

“Customers are increasingly seeking our 3D-printed tungsten carbide and Stellite solutions to help them maximize their productivity in challenging applications when wear and corrosion resistance are critical,” said Jay Verellen, general manager, Kennametal Additive Manufacturing. “Our work with GE Additive on Binder Jet solutions will enable further scaling of our operations to meet strong customer demand—and extend our leadership in proprietary material solutions for additive.”

3D printed tungsten carbide parts from Kennametal. Image courtesy of Kennametal.

GE works directly with its customers to development its binder jetting technology, according to the company. “By hands-on, we don’t mean tinkering or experimenting. We work closely with our beta customers as they develop their own, real-world business cases, applications and parts. To them, it is important that our solution is not only mature and scalable but is capable, complete and aligns to their product innovation strategies and meets production volume needs,” said Brian Birkmeyer, product line leader for Binder Jet at GE Additive.

With each of its beta partners, GE seems to be targeting a specific vertical: Cummins for power generation and automotive, Wabtec for rail, and Sandvik, possibly for mining. Kennametal, then, would be for industrial applications. Though Sandvik and Kennametal overlap, with both acting as materials suppliers and industrial engineering providers. In fact, just this year, Sandvik announced the development of tungsten carbide for additive. The material is an ideal one for cutting tools, which pairs well with Sandvik’s mining business.

GE Additive’s Series 3 metal binder jet 3D printer. Image courtesy of GE Additive.

Though GE said that it would release its H3 binder jetting system in 2021, it has yet to bring the system to market. However, it is likely that the machine will be commercially released by the end of 2022. When it does, it will be one of very few manufacturers of metal binder jetting systems. This includes Digital Metal, Desktop Metal/ExOne, HP, newcomer EasyMFG out of China, and, in the future, Triditive/Foxconn.

Though the bound metal segment is small, it is the fastest growing of all additive segments. SmarTech Analysis predicts metal binder jetting and bound metal extrusion to create $54 billion in parts by 2030, according to its recent “Market for Bound Metal Additive Manufacturing 2022” report.

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