PyroGenesis Canada, a high tech company that designs, develops, manufactures and commercializes plasma waste-to-energy systems and plasma torch products, has developed a new plasma-based process to produce ultrafine (5 to 25 micron) metal powders.
The new process enables MIM (metal injection molding) cut powder production at higher volumes and may have a greater impact on the market than the Company’s original Plasma Atomization technology, as it is proving to be an ideal fit for jetting technologies such as Desktop Metal’s upcoming production system.
The process, which is detailed in an interview with Mr. P. Peter Pascali, President and CEO of PyroGenesis, also seems to indicate that metal binder jetting processes are about to enter a new age in which they may prove a better fit for production than laser melting processes, due to much higher speeds and lower costs.
Over the past few years the idea was that SLM processes were more likley to be industrialized because they did not require firing as part of extensive post processing. However, the fact that the actual 3D printing is much faster and much less expensive is making many potential adopters and system manufacturers such as Desktop Metal strive to further automate the firing process, a task that may prove to be easier than accelerating overall SLM process build speeds.
Because binder jetting processes are becoming more popular they are also becoming mixed up with material jetting process. In fact the technologies are similar as both use inkjetting technology. However, while binder jetting only inkjets the binder onto a powder bed, material jetting actually inkjets the primary build materials (photopolymers or, as in XJet’s case, metal and ceramic nanoparticles) onto a platform.
“Basically, there are now three (3) broad types of 3D printers using metal powders,” Mr. Pascali explained. The first type is electron bean melting (EBM), used, for example, by Arcam printers, now part of GE Additive. EBM manufactures parts by melting metal powder layer by layer with an electron beam in a high vacuum. EBM technology uses the larger/coarsest fraction produced by our Plasma Atomization technology; typically, in the 45-106-micron range. The second type is Laser sintering, used, for example, in EOS, SLM, and Concept Laser printers. These printers use the small to middle fraction produced by our Plasma Atomization technology; typically, in the 15-45-micron range. Most metal printers use this small/middle fraction. The third (3rd) type is an inkjet type technology, used, for example, by Desktop Metals, and whereby the powders are coated with a binder to “glue” the powders together. These printers require ultra-fine powder, smaller than the powder required for Laser sintering machines, and a size cut that, until recently, PyroGenesis was not focusing on. There are some printers that use inkjet type technology but only need coarser powders, but we are not reviewing these printers here.”
PyroGenesis’ Plasma Atomization technology already produces powders for EBM and Laser
Sintering in optimal quality and quantities. Until the recent interest by 3D inkjet type metal printers in smaller powder sizes, the MIM cut was considered an undesirable by-product of the Plasma Atomization technology, with most of the economic value residing in the other two cuts encompassing the 15-106 powder size distribution.
“In fact, several months ago, the Company was approached by a number of companies who were interested in MIM cut titanium powder and whereby it became apparent to us that the appetite for this ultra-fine powder was significant. As a result, we decided to pause our ramp-up phase to make adjustments to our Plasma Atomization technology in order to try and shift the particle size distribution towards this low end of the spectrum, and produce powders in the range required for such “inkjet” type 3D printing machines.” said Mr. Pascali.
Pyrogenesis were able to develop this new plasma-based process being announced today which in essence has given the company significant control over the powder sizes produced, at significantly higher production rates and at less cost. Pyrogensis can now make MIM cut powders in very large quantities with little to no waste; thereby growing with, and enabling, those requiring ultrafine powder, and meeting their strategic growth needs.
“We believe this breakthrough is, if not more significant, then at least as significant as our original Plasma Atomization technology, and is just the beginning of what we can do with this new plasma based technology. It seems that we have not reached the limit of this new plasma-based process. By that I mean that once we achieved our goals (i.e. MIM cut, increased production rates), we backed off in favour of continuing with the ramp-up phase. Given our plasma expertise and our familiarity with the technology, we believe we have not even scraped the surface of what this new process can do with respect to production rates and powder quality.
So far Pyrogenesis have produced MIM cut titanium powder Grade 5. Grade 5 is the
grade currently being requested by the third (3rd) type of inkjet printers mentioned above. Of
interest is that not only can we make Grade 5 but it seems, though not yet confirmed, that the same process can also potentially make Grade 23 in the MIM cut. Grade 23 is the highest-grade titanium powder.
“With respect to production rates, we consider that to be confidential information. Mr. Pascali continued. “However, suffice it to say that, we have not read anywhere, (i.e. web sites, articles, recent or otherwise) of any other plasma powder producer whose production rates or powder quality exceeds our capabilities. To the best of our knowledge, there is no single plasma-based powder producer that can produce powder in sufficient quality and quantity to serve the whole market, including the ultra-fine powders (or MIM cut) used by inkjet type printers.”
Pyrogenesis is staying true to the announced ramp-up schedule, with ramp-up is still scheduled for completion between the end of this coming September and beginning of October, with production rates continuing to exceed expectations. The main challenge right now is how to incorporate the current advances within the current platform, while still maintaining the ramp-up commitment and schedule.
“The beauty of these discoveries/improvements is that they can be incorporated into our existing platform with little to no increase in capital cost; in fact, ultimately, we expect a decrease in both capital and operating costs as a result. Our current strategy is to maintain the ramp-up schedule while integrating these improvements, as time permits, however, at this stage, it is too early for us to determine whether all these improvements will be fully incorporated by the end of the ramp-up phase. Apart from that, we are experiencing the regular challenges that come with a ramp-up phase, but nothing that hasn’t been solved or isn’t manageable. All in all, we are more than happy with the progress to date.” Mr. Pascali concluded.
Additionally, the Company announced that CAN$130,500 of warrants have been exercised.
“Once again, this exercise of warrants is timely,” added Pascali. “As we noted in an earlier press release, we are currently looking beyond the rampup phase towards increasing production capacity ahead of our original expectations. This exercise of warrants, together with any future exercise of warrants and options, will enable us to implement plans to accelerate our original schedule to increase our production capacity of metal powders for the Additive manufacturing (3D Printing) Industry. We are still looking at ways to have up to three (3) additional powder production systems operating in 2018. To date, our metal powder production strategy is progressing far better than planned, and we are very