AMS Spring 2023

6K and SmarTech Explore How Metal Powders Can Thrive in Scaling 3D Printing Markets

6K SmarTech

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Trailblazing materials developer 6K rolled out its latest white paper to demonstrate the vast potential of metal powders for additive manufacturing (AM). The new document, titled “Metal Additive Goes Full Scale: The Future of the Metal Additive Powder Materials Market,” put together in collaboration with SmarTech Analysis, contributes a raft of valuable data, insights, and expectations on AM metal powders.

The white paper builds on 6K’s 15-year insight into the metal powder market and SmarTech Analysis’ multi-year metal AM statistics to explain how 3D printing product manufacturers will reap the benefits of a metal powder segment that has significantly dropped its prices and increased material diversity. According to the findings, this marked shift is the result of specialized powder innovators rising to the challenge by supplying a growing AM market that is now scaling end-use production parts and machine installations.

Metal 3P Printing Powder Scale up

With an emphasis on the word “scale,” 6K sets out to prove that, in the last ten years, metal additive users have increased metal powder consumption. Focusing on the use case of metal powder bed fusion (PBF) technology, the startup suggests that the average metal PBF machine consumed 22% more powder at the end of 2021 than it did in 2014. And it only gets better for the segment, particularly since the company expects a significant scale-up in additive powder material consumption in the coming decade. Even though the data presented and analyzed in the white paper is only for PBF-based processes, 6K notes there will be a trickle-down effect that could also increase the numbers for other metal AM technologies as well.

Processing Unique 3D Printing Materials

Additionally, 6K offers other key takeaways that could help AM metal businesses overcome some of the segment’s challenges heading into 2023. As the AM metals market continues to mature and scale, 6K identified three specific opportunities for materials vendors: broadening the number of functional metals, optimizing material for productivity or cost, and improving sustainability.

For example, 6K highlights that certain advanced materials, like high entropy alloys, some refractory metals, and metal matrix composites, can be tough to convert into a powder form and, in some cases, might be practically impossible to do so using traditional methods. However, thanks to advanced powder production processes now available from companies like 6K Additive (the additive manufacturing division of 6K), they can convert nontraditional feedstock material into uniform, high-quality powder at costs that other methods simply cannot. In addition, by creating new powders not previously possible, these companies can penetrate super high-value markets such as nuclear energy, defense, space, and more by making new powders that were not previously possible.

6K’s UniMelt Technology for Metal 3D Printing Powders

Using a specialized UniMelt microwave plasma spheroidization platform, 6K produces unique AM powders. What’s more, 6K also has a strong preference for its hallmark sustainably derived metals, seeing as it leverages and understands the supply chain of scrap materials to ensure quality and repurpose materials for sustainable metals production, a key part of the global transition to a low-carbon future. In fact, the whitepaper can help other stakeholders in this AM segment understand that powder manufacturers have a unique opportunity to bring sustainability benefits to their customers’ operations.

Now deployed at a production scale for the AM industry, 6K’s microwave plasma-based technology can use recycled build powder which would otherwise be discarded into landfills, to upscale it for use in the build process once again.

As much as the white paper emphasizes the indisputable evolution of the metal AM market, particularly on the powder materials side, it also advises powder companies to keep up with the supply so they can accommodate customers who have the opportunity to scale additive production. Otherwise, 6K cautions that a lagging supply chain will make the industry “suffer.”

In the last few years, 6K has raised millions of dollars in funding, partnered with plenty of companies to create AM powders, appointed high-profile members to its board (including politician Joe Kennedy III), and launched new facilities. Focused on developing more sustainable methods for providing metals used in industrial processes, the Massachusetts startup has been busy with several big announcements this year, including expanding its metal powder line to Europe, signing a joint development agreement with ONE to make battery materials, and was one of the select few organizations to receive a grant from President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law.

There are many benefits to producing engineered materials for additive manufacturing and lithium-ion batteries from 6K’s proprietary UniMelt plasma technology. Following an increased demand and larger orders from countless different industries that want to continue leveraging metal additive in their manufacturing processes, the need for never-before-seen volumes of AM powders will increase. This demand sets a high bar for any supplier.

You can download the 6K whitepaper for free here.

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