Canadian materials science company Equispheres teamed up with Montreal’s McGill University to develop an aluminium alloy powder capable of producing sinterable aluminium parts via binder jet additive manufacturing.
Per Equispheres, the limiting factor in producing sinterable aluminium parts with 3D printing was the ever-present layer of aluminium oxide on aluminium powder, which causes rapid oxidation. The firm says it has conquered this problem by producing a near-perfect spherical aluminium powder with a significantly thinner aluminium oxide layer and a smoother surface.
At present, Equispheres is collaborating with McGill University in the development of specialized binder agents for its patent-pending aluminium powder, with an eye toward using the combination in the production of automotive parts. Equispheres says it has high hopes for the development of such an agent in the near future.
Dr. Mathieu Brochu, Associate Professor at McGill and Canada Research Chair in Pulse Processing of Nanostructured Materials, noted the special properties of the new aluminium powder and its advantages in additive manufacturing.
“The unique and tailored attributes of Equispheres’ powder have proven exceptional in compaction free sintering. We are excited to begin work with Equispheres’ Binder Jet printing partners in the next phase to fully understand all aspects related to sintering of complex shape components and the fundamental relations with new specialised binder agents.”
“We are excited about the industry response to our unique aluminium sintering results,” enthused Equispheres CEO Kevin Nicholds. “Although Binder Jet printer technology offers the speed and cost reductions necessary to enable Additive Manufacturing to meet the requirements of automotive mass production, the inability to print with aluminium alloys has been a major limitation to the technology – until now.”
Binder jet technology has been frequently utilized with steel, inconel, and tungsten feedstock, but the process has been unsuccessful with aluminium until now. Experts say this will make a tremendous impact in the automotive industry, as almost a third of the material demand among auto manufacturers is filled by aluminium alloys.