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Formnext 2019 / 6K Premium metal powders and progressing toward a circular economy in AM

Editor: Briggette Jaya

Leading developer of microwave plasma technology for the production of advanced materials based in the U.S., 6K, has just announced the launch of AM powders derived from sustainable sources.

An SEM microscopic image of 6K sustainable powders depicting high sphericity and no satellites.
An SEM microscopic image of 6K sustainable powders depicting high sphericity and no satellites.
(Source: 6K Additive)

The advanced materials 6K produces are used in additive manufacturing (AM), lithium ion batteries and other industrial markets. 6K says its first-of-its-kind process has the unique ability to convert certified, chemistry-machined millings, turnings and other recycled-feedstock sources into premium AM-ready metal powder. The company will showcase metal alloy and ceramic powders and parts at Formnext in Frankfurt.

“If the AM industry is to succeed in expanding to a far greater number of parts and market applications, powder production technology has to advance to provide a far stronger business case,” company CEO Dr. Aaron Bent said. He noted that to enable this expansion will mean lowering total cost structures and producing higher performance powders, both of which are possible with 6K’s processes. “We need to go beyond that — to powders and business models that consider the full production cycle cost of building AM parts,” Dr. Bent added.

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The company said that it has developed a process technology that, today, can produce premium powder from certified machining turnings and previously used powders, and, in the future, extend its capability to feedstock created from AM support structures, non-conforming AM parts post-print and other unique inputs. The goal, according to 6K, is to use 100% of the materials that enter the supply chain, providing AM end-users a new way to manage project costs and control supply chain, while advancing progress towards a circular economy in AM.

6K’s powder products are the combination of two core technologies, namely, alloy reclaimation technology and the Unimelt plasma system.

The former has the ability to reclaim metals and alloys from subtractive manufacturing and other operations. 6K is already reclaiming and selling over 500 tons of Ti-64 per year to the aluminum-alloying industry for aerospace, medical and automotive products. This provides an engineered feedstock for Amastan’s Unimelt plasma for a wide continuum of alloys.

Unimelt plasma system is, as 6K claims, the world’s only microwave production scale plasma with a highly uniform and precise plasma zone, which has zero contamination, and is capable of high-throughput production of advanced battery powders, phosphors, AM materials and more.

“Our ability to reclaim materials and process almost any type of metal, alloy or ceramic feedstock into premium powders, puts a powerful tool into the hands of the AM designer,” continued Dr. Bent. He said that means any alloy that is machined has the potential to become powder and that 6K can now create new AM powders previously not possible: powders engineered from non-eutectic alloys such as high-entropy alloys or designer aluminum alloys capable of printing in powder-bed fusion systems.

Thanks to the high uniformity of the microwave plasma, 6K says it has the ability to produce quality powders that exceed competitive technologies, providing high sphericity, zero porosity, the elimination of satellites, and high flowability and tap density. Through its metals reclaimation strategy, 6K can specifically target the powder size distribution to the AM process needed: MIM, L-PBF, EBM, DED or Binder-jetting, which enables almost 100% Unimelt process yield that is as much as three to four times higher than gas atomisation.

As part of 6K's launch was also the announcement of re-branding the company from Amastan Technologies to 6K, which is the latest in a series of strategic initiatives. All this reflects the company's growth over the last year, including a B-2 series funding of 11 million dollars and the acquisition of AI Solutions (now 6K Additive). 6K Additive is a ISO9001 facility, processing over 500 tons of Ti-64 per year, which will soon be a state-of-the-art 40,00 sq./ft. production facility for AM powders, scheduled to open in Q1 of 2020.

At Formnext, 6K will be Hall 12, Booth E22.

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