Ames lab manufactures smooth metal powders for 3D metal printing

The Ames Laboratory, run by the US department of Energy at the Iowa state Laboratory, is engaged in manufacturing superior quality metal powders. If this research is successful, it could be a boon to the 3D printing Industry.

The 3D metal printing industry is an important segment of additive manufacturing and it is growing at an unprecedented pace. A big hurdle for this industry has been the choice in terms of materials and expensive equipment. In 2015, a Kickstarter campaign was initiated for a metal 3D printing filament called Filamet by the Wisconsin-based startup called the Virtual Foundry. The campaign was successful and Virtual made Filamet public so that people could 3D print metals using their desktop printers.

Recently at the Consumer Electronics Show, the Massachusetts-based company Markforged unveiled a cost-effective method for 3D printing metal called Atomic Diffusion Additive Manufacturing (ADAM), with their new 3D printer, the Metal X. The Ames Lab is using a state-of-the-art gas atomization method, manufacturing smooth, spherical metal particles that are perfect for manufacturing.

Iver Anderson and Emma White at the Ames lab keep their custom made metal powders in hourglasses. They flip these hour glasses to show the difference between their metal powders and the traditional ones. The gas atomized powders flow smoothly while the conventional ones stop and have to be shaken to move down. They have rough edges and require a pulsating machine in the manufacturing process. This would incur extra costs for the manufacturer. The Ames powders have earned 16 patents in the last 20 years. It has also lead to the installation of a spin-off company IPAT.

The method of gas atomization leads to fine uniform shaped powder particles which are a result of applying high-pressure gas to the metal which breaks the molten metal into tiny parts. The powders can be customized as per different industry needs.

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