Reducing metal alloy powder costs for use in powder bed fusion additive manufacturing: Improving the economics for production

Fransisco Medina, University of Texas at El Paso


Titanium and its associated alloys have been used in industry for over 50 years and have become more popular in the recent decades. Titanium has been most successful in areas where the high strength to weight ratio provides an advantage over aluminum and steels. Other advantages of titanium include biocompatibility and corrosion resistance. Electron Beam Melting (EBM) is an additive manufacturing (AM) technology that has been successfully applied in the manufacturing of titanium components for the aerospace and medical industry with equivalent or better mechanical properties as parts fabricated via more traditional casting and machining methods. As the demand for titanium powder continues to increase, the price also increases. Titanium spheroidized powder from different vendors has a price range from $260/kg-$450/kg, other spheroidized alloys such as Niobium can cost as high as $1,200/kg. Alternative titanium powders produced from methods such as the Titanium Hydride-Dehydride (HDH) process and the Armstrong Commercially Pure Titanium (CPTi) process can be fabricated at a fraction of the cost of powders fabricated via gas atomization. The alternative powders can be spheroidized and blended. Current sectors in additive manufacturing such as the medical industry are concerned that there will not be enough spherical powder for production and are seeking other powder options. It is believed the EBM technology can use a blend of spherical and angular powder to build fully dense parts with equal mechanical properties to those produced using traditional powders. Some of the challenges with angular and irregular powders are overcoming the poor flow characteristics and the attainment of the same or better packing densities as spherical powders. The goal of this research is to demonstrate the feasibility of utilizing alternative and lower cost powders in the EBM process. As a result, reducing the cost of the raw material to reduce the overall cost of the product produced with AM. Alternative powders can be made by blending or re-spheroidizing HDH and CPTi powders. Machine modifications were performed to allow the testing and manufacturing with these low cost alternative powders. A comparison was made between alternative powders and gas atomized powders. Powders were compared in terms of morphology and at the microstructural level. Flowability of different powder blends was also measured. Finally, a comparison of parts fabricated from the multiple powder blends and gas atomized powder was made. It has been demonstrated that powder blending can produce fully dense parts in the Arcam system by utilizing the double melt technique or HIPing the built pars. The double melt technique increased the density of the sample part and modified the microstructure into finer martensitic grains. The HIP process can make a part fully dense regardless of what percentage of HDH powder blending is used. The HIP process yielded the same microstructure, regardless of the grain structure it started with. This research allows for the reduction of costs using titanium powders in the EBM system, but can also be implemented with more costly elements and alloys using other metal AM technologies. This includes niobium, tantalum, and nickel-based superalloys for use in various industries.

Subject Area

Industrial engineering|Materials science

Recommended Citation

Medina, Fransisco, "Reducing metal alloy powder costs for use in powder bed fusion additive manufacturing: Improving the economics for production" (2013). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3611283.