Binder-based metal AM innovators Desktop Metal and Uniformity Labs, a company revolutionizing industrial 3D printing materials and processes, achieved a breakthrough powder that enables aluminum 6061 binder jetting. This new powder, that can be proficently sintered, is the result of a multi-year collaboration between the companies to develop a low-cost, raw material yielding fully dense, sinterable 6061 aluminum with greater than ten percent (10%) elongation and improved yield strength (YS) and ultimate tensile strength (UTS) versus wrought 6061 aluminum with comparable heat treatment.
One key benefit of newer binder jetting technologies is expected to be the ability to rapidly adapt powders used in MIM processes to the binder jetting process, further lowering material costs. However, several limitations still remain in truly adapting metal alloys, including the fact that one of the most relevant materials for binder jetting adoption, aluminum, is not well suited for MIM processes.
“This breakthrough represents a major milestone in the development of aluminum for binder jetting and a significant step forward for the AM industry as it is one of the most sought-after materials for use in automotive, aerospace and consumer electronics,” said Ric Fulop, CEO and co-founder of Desktop Metal. “The global aluminum castings market is more than $50 billion per year, and it is ripe for disruption with binder jetting AM solutions. These are the best-reported properties we are aware of for a sintered 6061 aluminum powder, and we are excited to make this material available exclusively to Desktop Metal customers as part of our ongoing partnership with Uniformity Labs.”
According to 3dpbm Research‘s upcoming market report on the metal AM segment, today aluminum alloys are the fourth most popular alloys after titanium, steel and nickel, however, they will become the third most popular alloys by 2030. The increase in the use of aluminum for AM could be even more significant if binder jetting technologies will prove able to proficiently process it for serial production.
“The introduction of lightweight metals to binder jetting opens the door to a wide variety of thermal and structural applications across industries,” said Adam Hopkins, founder and CEO of Uniformity Labs. “This innovation is a key step towards the adoption of mass-produced printed aluminum parts.”
This new powder enables the sintering of unadulterated 6061 aluminum and represents a significant improvement over prior techniques used to sinter aluminum, which required coating powder particles, mixing sintering aids into powder, using binders containing expensive nanoparticles, or adding metals such as lead, tin and magnesium. Critically, the powder also enables compatibility with water-based binders and has a higher minimum ignition energy (MIE) relative to other commercially available 6061 aluminum powders, resulting in an improved safety profile. Desktop Metal and Uniformity Labs plan to continue to work together over the coming year to qualify the powder and scale production for commercial release.
Once fully qualified, Uniformity 6061 aluminum will be available for use with the Desktop Metal Production System platform, which is the only metal binder jetting solution with an inert, chemically inactive processing environment across the printer and auxiliary powder processing equipment, enabling customers to achieve consistent, high-quality material properties across volumes of end-use parts with reactive materials, such as aluminum.