Range of 3D printing materials is rapidly growing

3D collimated parts
3D collimated parts

H.C. Starck develops and produces metal powders for additive manufacturing. In this interview, Dr. Rainer Leo Meisel, Senior Manager for Applied Technology Metal Powders at H.C Starck Surface Technology and Ceramic Powders GmbH in Laufenburg, Germany, talks to 3D fab+print about high market dynamics, the growing range of materials, and cooperation with system manufacturers and users in the development of new alloys.

By John Butterfield

Dr. Meisel, what  role has additive manufacturing played so far at H.C. Starck, and how do you judge its potentials?

Within our group, additive manufacturing plays a large role. In our perspective, it has a lot of perspective as an application, and it is firmly rooted in our company’s strategy. We started early and have managed to achieve a strong position in the market. WE therefore want to continue our strong growth. The market’s enormous development is noticeable because there is a tremendous demand for suitable powders. System manufacturers have a hard time keeping up with the production of systems. And we hear from suppliers of atomizing systems that demand for their products has also risen noticeably. The reason being that this technology keeps opening up more and more fields of applications. I have just read that an underground hydroelectric power station from this region produces spare parts additively in their own system.

Which powders do you offer for additive manufacturing?

We produce various nickel, cobalt, and iron-based alloys, which, among other things, can be used as super alloys for high-temperature applications. Our cobalt-chrome alloys have been in use in medical technology for many years. We also offer various high-quality aviation alloys. Recently, we have also been experiencing a growing demand for stainless steel powders.

What about plastics or ceramic powders?

Our product portfolio does not include plastics. From time to time, we get a request for ceramic powder. Still, this market size is comparably small right now. However, tungsten and tungsten carbide, molybdenum, or tantalum are promising candidates that currently are processed in small amounts in research projects.

How do you rate chances to broaden the limited choice of materials offered on the market in the short and medium term?

This is a thing already in motion. Our manufacturing systems are well-suited for large production volumes. Additionally, we also have systems producing small amounts, which is ideal for our customers’ development and research purposes. Generally, powders for additive manufacturing are atomized with an inert gas. With alternative atomization technologies like water atomization, the powders’ oxygen levels result in unsatisfactory mechanical properties of the components. This would not fit the demands of additive manufacturing. Gas atomization, however, offers enough possibilities for broadening the range of materials.

The complete interview was published in the November/December 2016 edition of 3D fab+print magazine.