What Should Mining Companies Know about PBF Metal Additive Manufacturing Process?

What Should Mining Companies Know about PBF Metal Additive Manufacturing Process?

PBF is a widely used metal additive manufacturing process for its most significant opportunity in the production of optimized, end-use parts.

Fremont, CA: Powder Bed Fusion (PBF) is the widely used metal additive manufacturing process and was the first metal 3D Printing process. It prints metal using a laser or electron beam to melt lines in powder to produce complex parts by conventional manufacturing. PBF has many challenges, including high material costs, laborious post-processing requirements, slow speeds, and restrictions on material compatibility. For this reason, commercial use of PBF is limited to rapid prototyping or high-value part designs like light-weighting and assembly consolidation, leveraging the unique geometries while withstanding the high costs of technology.

PBF works by spreading a thin layer of metal powder over a thick metal print plate, which is then selectively melted by a heat source, namely a laser or an electron beam. This first printed layer attaches to the print plate, followed by a new layer of powder that is spread on top of the printed layer and is called re-coating. Then the newly spread layer of metal powder is printed, and the process repeats until a whole 3D part has been built up within the powder bed.

The fine metal powders chosen for PBF possess significant quality and safety implications that affect the way they are stored, printed, and handled. As the metal powders are sensitive to the environment for the high surface area, it creates quality risk as it can absorb moisture, oxygen, and other constituents in the air affecting material properties of the part. Also, metal powder is a safety risk for its flammability and risk for inhalation. Therefore, Manufacturers who use PBF should build and maintain expensive infrastructure, safety equipment, and careful procedures to manage these risks.

Like other AM technologies, PBF is mainly used for rapid prototyping; however, its biggest opportunity is in the production of optimized, end-use parts. Their production use cases are primarily in the aerospace and medical industries. For its lightweight and increased performance characteristics, LEAP engine fuel can be printed. It is highly suitable for making medical implants as the implant geometry can be customized to the patient’s anatomy and rough surface and porosity promote bone growth and integration.