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AMS Spring 2023

Metal Powder Works Brings Metal 3D Printing Feedstock to Neighborhood 91 Ecosystem

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Neighborhood 91 (N91), Pittsburgh’s industrial park dedicated to additive manufacturing (AM), has welcomed its newest resident, Metal Powder Works (MPW). The company is establishing a 10,000-square-foot production facility, eight times larger than the firm’s previous site. Moreover, it enables MPW to become a part of the nascent 3D printing ecosystem that is being created at Pittsburgh International Airport.

Metal Powder Works’ Metal 3D Printing Powders

Moving into Neighborhood 91, MPW is shifting gears from fundamental development of its business to industrial operations. With its DirectPowder process, the company suggests that it is essentially revolutionizing metal powder production in terms of yield, cost, and quality. Though the exact nature of the process hasn’t been disclosed, MPW claims to be able to tightly control metal particle output using its proprietary software so that it can create precise particle sizes and morphologies. It does this at room temperature, thus reducing the need for excessive energy as seen with the typical plasma atomization technique.

At N91, the company will be focused on aluminum and copper powders, but it has also applied its DirectPowder technique to polymers, such as ultra-high-molecular-weight polyethylene (UHMWPE), PEEK, and PEKK. Those are obviously highly useful and valuable for the AM industry, often used as a less expensive alternative to metals. Thus, the company could find itself working in a number of key niches.

Welcome to the Neighborhood

This is particularly important as N91 fleshes out its ecosystem. Currently, there is gas recycling and production company Arencibia, service provider Cumberland Additive, and rail company Wabtec. Since dropped from the N91 website, aluminum supplier Rusal America may no longer be in the picture for geopolitical reasons. The site has nearly all it needs to operate a complete 3D printing ecosystem, including an adjacent airport from which to ship parts.

Conveniently for MPW, it already had a friend on its side at N91, The Barnes Global Advisors, who is a partner of the industrial park. The Group’s founder, John Barnes, is also the CEO and founder of MPW, alongside CTO Chris Aldridge. Barnes is a materials engineer with over 25 years of experience in aerospace, much of which was focused on metal powder AM. Aldridge has been working with metal AM at such corporate behemoths as Lockheed Martin and Arconic. Barnes said of the new MPW location, “The concept of Neighborhood 91 was always to bring an additive manufacturing supply chain to one centralized location. We’re excited to be a part of Pittsburgh’s advanced manufacturing scene.”

Currently, the AM market is evolving, with an increasing number of players focusing not on the 3D printing technology itself, but on the pre- and post-processing aspects of the workflow. MPW is a member of a growing number of companies targeting powder production, looking to make it more highly controlled and efficient. These include firms like 6K, which speeds up metal feedstock manufacturing and resultantly reduces its energy use, and Equispheres, which is improving the overall sphericity of powders.

MPW hopes to be fully operational at the N91 location by the end of October. When it is, the neighborhood will be on step closer toward creating an ecosystem. To introduce a truly novel and circular concept, however, it will need to begin integrating materials recycling as well as production. At that point, it could reach toward industrial symbiosis, rather than an ecosystem alone.

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