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PyroGenesis Now Producing Metal 3D Printing Powders at Scale

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PyroGenesis Canada Inc.(TSX: PYR) has long been working to develop additive manufacturing (AM) feedstock using its own plasma atomization technique. Now, the company has announced that it has increased its powder production technology to industrial scale.

NextGen Metal 3D Printing Powders

PyroGenesis is a Montreal-based plasma technology company, which not only recycles waste, but also develops systems for converting that waste into something useful, including energy. The company claims to be the original inventor of plasma atomization, even inventing that term. Since at least 2015, it has also worked to develop metal powders for AM. P. Peter Pascali, CEO and Chair of PyroGenesis, explained that it took several years of research and development to push the technology beyond sample production:

“Over the past three years, PyroGenesis completed a series of intricate production steps as it readied the NexGen Plasma Atomization system. This has resulted in the most recent milestone, where the Company announced that it had moved from sample production to commercial size batch production,” Pascali said. “With the ability to now produce titanium powder by the tonne, the Company is now in a position where it can provide additional perspective on status, and next steps, for both existing and developing opportunities.”

The plasma atomization process from PyroGenesis. Image courtesy of PyroGenesis.

The result is the NexGen Plasma Atomization System, which advances on its previous plasma atomization technique by offering higher production rates, narrower particle size distribution (“PSD”), and the ability to distribute bulk PSD in a more desirable manner. In turn, PyroGenesis claims the ability to manufacture “a very targeted powder, with little to no waste, at higher volumes and lower cost.”

Partners at Home and Abroad

In 2019, PyroGenesis partnered with French metal industrialization company Aubert & Duval to help develop the NextGen technology. A subsidiary of the world’s second largest maker of high-power, press-forged parts Eramet, Aubert & Duval buys titanium powder exclusively from PyroGenesis to distribute it in Europe. Now, PyroGenesis is in the process of establishing full distribution agreements, including distribution planning, order planning, and logistics.

PyroGenesis’s plasma atomization system. Image courtesy of PyroGenesis.

Additionally, a tier one North American aerospace company has agreed to qualify of the titanium powder to set the Canadian plasma business to become an approved supplier. This will include evaluating PyroGenesis’s manufacturing methods, powder samples, and mechanical and chemical properties before printing test coupons. Pyrogenesis believes they are nearing the end of this initial testing process before approval of non-manufacturing processes (e.g., quoting, handling, storing, shipping, logistics, etc.). Final approval is anticipated to occur in Q4 2022.

Now, PyroGenesis is in the process of producing stock titanium powder for storage as orders from Aubert & Duval, along with other customers, begins to take place. This may include the Asian market, where the company had previously initiated talks with a metal powder supplier to establish a distribution agreement.

So far, the plasma firm had achieved ISO 9001:2008 and AS9100D certification for aerospace. It is now ready to pursue ISO 13485:2016, which is focused on a quality management system that demonstrates the ability to provide regulated medical devices and related services. That will open up the company’s powders to the medical market.

Expanding to Aluminum 3D Printing Powders

At the moment, the NextGen technology is capable of atomizing titanium powders; however, PyroGenesis is also developing aluminum alloys, such as AlSi10Mg, for the auto industry. This trends with aluminum 3D printing as a whole, which is currently being driven by demand by auto OEMs for this lightweight, corrosion resistant, mechanically strong metal typically used in casting. According to SmarTech Analysis, aluminum alloy 3D printing accounted for almost 10% of 3D printed metal in 2018, which led to a 43 percent growth in shipments of aluminum powder.

PyroGenesis anticipates the need for a stand-alone aluminum atomization system in order to prevent cross-contamination, individualized research and development, and large-scale production of the material. As a result, this is a medium-term goal for the firm. It is also exploring regions in Europe in which to establish a powder factory in Europe.

“As we have stated in the past, given the sheer size of this market and our unique manufacturing process – which improves exponentially on the world’s existing leading metal powder production process (which we invented 25 years ago) – we expect to capture a significant share of the overall titanium powder market,” said Massimo Dattilo, Vice President of PyroGenesis Additive. “With our NexGen system reaching the commercial scale production milestones of the past month, combined with the attention that these achievements have attracted worldwide, we are even more convinced that not only has the Company’s systematic and painstaking approach been the correct path, but that this strategy will result in unique additional opportunities. As a result, we are continuing to announce new products, new markets, and additional manufacturing avenues as indicated above, all with the goal to help additive manufacturers improve their processes & margins, by offering the highest quality metal powders at the lowest cost.”

Analysis

It is interesting to hear these updates from PyroGenesis all at once. The company must have been eager to share the progress on its AM powder technology, particularly as numerous newcomers enter a space which it had begun exploring much earlier.

Given the French background of Quebec, it is not surprising that it has partnered with a French metals company for distribution. It also wouldn’t be surprising if those French-Canadian synergies continued, perhaps leading to a collaboration with AddUp, just across the border in Ohio and with a headquarters in France. Canada’s AM ecosystem has not yet caught up with those of other first world nations, so we can likely expect PyroGenesis to further cultivate, if not lead, the 3D printing sector in the country.

It would be particularly interesting for a company like Eramet to acquire PyroGenesis or even its additive division as the relationship progresses. Founded with funding from the Rothschild banking family in 1880, the company has grown to a $3.7 billion mining giant, in terms of 2017 revenues. Large metals businesses—such as Kennametal, GKN, Carpenter, Sandvik, Rusal, Höganäs, and ThyssenKrupp—have been increasing their footing in AM for some time. While ThyssenKrupp is the largest in terms of revenues, it is not producing AM powders for sale. Instead, it is working with shipping giant Wilhelmsen to 3D print marine parts. Sandvik may be the most comparable in terms of activities, given its large mining business. For a French firm to take out a slice of the metal AM powders segment, it might very well need to purchase its own division rather than develop it internally.

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