Metals are the fastest-growing segment of 3D printing. The growth of additive manufacturing is tied to business opportunities and, directly, the materials available and their costs. Low-cost metal powders are the key enablers for 3D printing, to realize its potential and transform industrial production. Available metallic powders for additive manufacturing are mostly those being used in a range of applications (medical, aerospace, jewelry, automotive, etc.). A significant issue is the progressive degradation of metal powders during processing as a result of the powder bed being exposed to oxygen and other contaminants. There is large potential demand for cost-effective methods of reconditioning metal powders.
Metal additive manufacturing systems manufacturers (EOS, Concept Laser, ARCAM, etc.) supply approved material powders, but many powders are likely atomized elsewhere, and the cost is greater than purchasing directly from a powder manufacturer. Water atomization is the most common and economical technique to produce metal powders. The high water pressure that impacts more energy into a molten metal stream, combined with a rapid cooling rate, give rise to powder particles that are tough and irregular in shape.