The demand for titanium powder is growing as additive manufacturing creates newly favorable buy-to-fly ratios. Titanium is a proven alloy with superior weight-to-strength ratios.
Here are six questions that additive manufacturers need to ask when evaluating titanium powder suppliers to ensure a safe, high-quality, and consistent supply chain.
Is there a metallurgist in the house?
Titanium powder demands deep metallurgical knowledge, including powder metallurgy expertise. Specifications for additive manufacturing involve different considerations than traditional manufacturing; they also can vary based on the type of 3D printing technology being used: binder jet, electon bream powder bed fusion (EB-PBF) or laser powder bed fusion (L-PBF). A metallurgist can guide you about what characteristics are important and how they may impact your AM project, including oxygen pickup, flowability, powder distribution, tap density, apparent density, and overall morphology. We are fortunate to employ some of the industry's top experts in both metallurgy and powder metallurgy. This is especially important when evaluating closed- vs. open-source suppliers, as printer manufacturers are more focused on powders that work well on their printers, rather than the optimal characteristics for the end-use.
What atomization process is used to produce the titanium powder?
Not all atomization processes are created equal. Some use components that deteriorate during processing and must be replaced regularly to avoid contamination risk. Traditional crucible gas atomization (GA) methods such as open melt or vacuum inert gas atomization (VIGA) are not suitable for titanium alloys, making plasma atomization (PA) and Electrode Inert
Gas Atomization (EIGA) the preferred methods of producing powder for powder bed fusion additive manufacturing systems. For more information on the powder produced by these two processes, check out our white paper.
Can I visit the plant?
Before committing your additive manufacturing projects to a titanium powder supplier it's advisable to visit the plant and walk through the production process to assess contamination mitigation and safety standards. Things to look for:
- Is the process used to move titanium powder through each stage of production adequately "sealed" to avoid exposure to the plant environment? Look for operations that seal the powder from ambient air and maintain ventilation systems to minimize airborne contaminants.
- Is the blender dedicated or used for multiple alloys? What is the cleaning process when changing over to a new alloy?
- What is the screening process? In-house screening is highly preferable for quality. A screening system must be sealed and the cleaning process designed to avoid airborne contamination.
- What is the company's philosophy when it comes to clean? Is the environment visibly neat and clean? Do employees demonstrate a high level of attention to clean standards? Does the company provide laundered uniforms?
How many powders are produced here?
A multi-alloy production can create contamination risk in even the cleanest plant. If the supplier produces multiple alloys in the same location, gain confidence that production is adequately segregated and properly ventilated as fine powder "migrates" easily. Also, confirm that employees with responsibility for multiple alloys follow practices that avoid introducing contamination through normal traffic flow and production responsibilities.
What safety processes are in place?
Handling powder is inherently hazardous, and the finer the titanium powder the more reactive it is. From production and blending to screening to shipping, safety must be a top priority and encompass equipment maintenance, handling processes, and employee safety. Once again a closed process is preferable. Producing fine powder under pressure with an inert gas such as argon greatly reduces some safety risks. It's also important to ensure that shipping and labeling comply with laws for transporting dangerous goods. If you purchase product with FOB shipping you may be responsible for the loss of product due to unsafe shipping practices. Other safety considerations to evaluate include proper ventilation, fire suppression units, and ongoing employee training.
Can the supplier meet your demand needs now and long-term?
Confirm the feedstock for the titanium alloy you need is readily available and that the price is in line with the intended application. Another important consideration is the turnaround time. As more manufacturers approach production volumes, supply will tighten quickly. Make sure your titanium powder supplier(s) can meet your anticipated volumes in an acceptable timeframe too.