Behind 6K’s White Paper on Metal Powders for Additive Manufacturing

Formnext Germany

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Massachusetts-based plasma technology company 6K released a white paper last October detailing the future of the metal powder market for additive manufacturing (AM). The study evaluates how metal powder suppliers should adapt to ensure the AM industry has enough input sources for growing demand.

6K’s white paper, titled “Metal Additive Goes Full Scale: The Future of the Metal Additive Powder Materials Market,” covers AM opportunities for materials vendors, strategies to increase additive powder supply, and extensive data about the global AM metals powder market. Together with SmarTech Analysis, 6K has jointly developed a white paper that analyzes the metal powder market using multi-year metal AM statistics to explain why there is a ramping need to create entirely new powder materials, not previously y possible.

According to the document, given AM’s penetration into super high-value markets, like nuclear energy, defense, and space, pushing AM further can revolutionize these and potentially other industries. In addition, thanks to advanced powder production processes now available from companies like 6K Additive, which uses advanced plasma spheroidization to convert nontraditional feedstock material into uniform, high-quality powder, the costs are not even comparable to what other methods can provide.

The paper found that while AM metals market continues to mature and scale, three specific opportunities have become available to materials vendors: broadening the number of functional metals, optimizing material for productivity or cost, and improving sustainability.

Metal powder markets climbing

Building on in-house market data, the white paper charts an illustrative path for scaling into the future and suggests a strategic combination of powder manufacturing innovations that can add value to the future of metal additive even beyond the constant battle to bring down materials costs. One of the comprehensive insights from the white paper is that this move could power the global AM metal powder market even beyond the current forecast to grow to $7.7 billion in 2031.

Additionally, the 6K-SmarTech Analysis white paper shares a broad view of the metal AM user base since 2013. Among the additive market data models and forecasts by SmarTech Analysis presented in this study, the authors looked particularly at metal powder bed fusion (PBF) technology installation data and utilization rates. From the data in the report, it is clear that “the average metal PBF machine (overwhelmingly laser-based) consumed 22 percent (or about 50 kilograms on average) more powder at the end of 2021 than it did at the end of 2014.”

Most importantly, the document concludes that as the installed base of machines shifts more rapidly from the single laser style architecture and use cases of the past to the industrialized, factory architecture of cutting-edge machines of today, the average consumption per installed machine worldwide will have doubled from 2021 consumption levels.

Encouraged by the overwhelming insights from the data, the authors further analyzed the annual installed base of PBF machines worldwide to provide data that “visualizes” the scale-up in additive powder material consumption that will be witnessed in the coming decade. Considering that the data presents values for PBF-based processes only, other metals AM technologies would increase this number significantly.

Scale factor modeling for metal AM PBF. Image courtesy of SmarTech Analysis Core Metal AM Advisory Service.

A material production platform

Having worked closely with industries like aerospace and medical for years, powder leaders like Carpenter Additive, Oerlikon, Praxair, and many more are working to develop additive-optimized powder offerings, says the report. Interest and investment in this segment have led to the emergence of specialized providers, including 6K Additive – a 6K subsidiary – and subsequently to a greater response to the demand for super high-quality metal 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, as it leverages and understands the supply chain of scrap materials to ensure quality and repurpose materials for sustainable metals production, a vital 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.

The 6K UniMelt system. Image courtesy of 6K.

As detailed in the report, the key actions and essential takeaways after each topic provide a clear path for powder companies supplying materials to the AM industry. This resource also helps sustain a critical conversation around the metal additive industry as a whole and its evolution. However, 6K and SmarTech Analysis conclude that even though additive production is scaling, which presents a unique opportunity for materials developers, they also warn that metal powder suppliers “will have to do much more to help the industry realize the dream as it is unfolding.”

You can download the 6K whitepaper for free here.

3DPrint.com and SmarTech Analysis are hosting Additive Manufacturing Strategies in New York City on February 7-9, 2023. Register for the event here to learn from and network with the most exciting companies and individuals in AM.

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