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DoD Awards 6K Additive $23.4 Million to Upcycle Scrap into High-Grade 3D Printing Powders

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The US Department of Defense (DoD) has awarded 6K Additive, the Pennsylvania-based manufacturer of metal powders for additive manufacturing (AM), $23.4 million to expand its capacity for upcycling metal scrap into AM feedstock. The funds were awarded via the Defense Production Act Investment (DPAI) program.

The DPAI is part of the Manufacturing Capability Expansion and Investment Program (MCEIP), within the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Base Policy (OASD (IBP)). So far in 2023, the DPAI has allocated $735 million across a total of 24 awards.

The funds come about a week after 6K Additive announced that its titanium powder (Ti-6AL-4V) received third-party certification verifying that it contains at least 95 percent post-consumer recycled titanium. It also comes a couple of months after the US Army awarded 6K a five-year Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) order for its metal powders.

In a DoD press release about the $23.4 million award to 6K Additive for upcycling scrap into metal AM powders, Dr. Laura Taylor-Kale, Assistant Secretary of Defense for Industrial Base Policy, said, “US dependency on foreign sources for specialty metals presents a significant risk to national security. 6K’s products will feed supply chains that form the basis of our military’s core warfighting capabilities.”

According to the DoD press release, the $23.4 million that 6K will use for “facility renovation, equipment acquisition and installation, and engineering” will allow the company to achieve full production capacity at its Burgettstown, PA facility by the end of 2026.

6K has been one of the busiest AM companies in the US over the last few years, and one of the greatest beneficiaries of AM-related government funding efforts. The latter has issued not solely from DoD, but from the Department of Energy (DOE), as well. The rationale behind the government’s support of the company seem fairly clear: to the extent that AM is anchoring the manufacturing-related national security initiatives mentioned above by Assistant Secretary of Defense Taylor-Kale, the overall push simply can’t be successful without significant expansion of the domestic US critical metals supply chain. In other words, I don’t think it’s too much to argue that the success of the whole buildup of metal AM in the US depends on the success of 6K.

Of course, it will depend on many other factors, as well, but without the ready, steadily increasing availability of domestic sources of metal powders, the “resilience” argument for metal AM kind of falls apart. Down the road, domestic sources of mined metal for AM powders will also have to be in far more plentiful supply, which is why companies like IperionX are attracting more and more attention (IperionX, by the way, has also received DoD support for turning scrap into AM feedstock). But if getting low-carbon supply chains that can keep as much of the metal as possible that starts in the domestic US supply from ever leaving that supply chain, the first priority in this very long-term process is to put advanced recycling capabilities into place.

Images courtesy of 6K Additive

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