Recycling Powders in the Additive Manufacturing Industry

Jon Lawson

To guarantee the quality of 3D printed final products, manufacturers must ensure the purity and consistency of the powders used in production. Regardless of the additive manufacturing technology used, as the industry advances, consideration of up- and down-stream processes for powder management are becoming more of a focus. This ensures key factors are addressed such as product wastage, operator safety, powder conditioning and traceability.

As well as qualifying incoming materials, a key part of the powder management process is the reclaim of additive powders after a build is complete. Once reclaimed, powders are blended and requalified. However, the great challenge is how to reclaim these powders efficiently. Without an efficient solution for this part of the process the industry cannot continue to grow. Due to the physical changes that can occur during the build process, this powder cannot simply be reused. The hidden deteriorated and oversize particles would compromise the quality of the next build.

A powder management system is required to qualify incoming powders as well as process recycled am powders after a build is complete. There are a number of processes involved during the requalification process. The first and most critical is to remove the contaminated particles from the reclaimed powder. When considering the sectors where additive manufacturing is expected to be widely used, such as medical, automotive and aerospace, the quality and reliability of the final product cannot be compromised. In addition, due to the wide range of materials used within additive manufacturing - all with very different mechanical properties - this often leads to highly inefficient and labor-intensive processes and contributes to increased costs associated with lost good product or contamination of powders.

As a result of this growing need, Russell Finex developed the award-winning Russell AMPro Sieve Station™ - the first system of its kind - to ensure a key industry need is met: Guaranteeing the powder handling process is fully controllable, repeatable and with minimal operator involvement.

As with all new products developed by Russell Finex, during the conception of this new additive powder management system it was important to address the key industry requirements. Having worked within the AM industry since its outset, Russell Finex has built relationships with key partners in all areas of the sector, and the company was sure to utilize this industry knowhow when addressing these requirements, to ensure the Russell AMPro Sieve Station™ meets current and future needs of this rapidly evolving market.

A key to this pioneering system is how all functions are incorporated into a ‘one-button’ operation. A touch-screen interface - which is fully programmable for multiple settings - enables automatic processing of different powders and particle sizes. Integrating the sieving process, unique feed and flow management system and intelligent weigh system, the operator simply presses one button and can focus on other tasks such as finishing components or preparing the printer for another build. With a compact and mobile design, the system has been designed to fit seamlessly into any AM production process, compatible with powder vessel transfer or as part of a closed-loop powder recovery system.

The sieve unit itself is the most advanced element, providing accurate high-capacity sieving of powders, resulting in fast process times. In addition to being easy to operate, Russell Finex has applied its extensive experience in supplying to sanitary industries to ensure all contact parts are crevice-free and finished to the highest standard, for fast and effective cleaning. This allows changeover times within 30 minutes, and minimizes cross-contamination risk.
This versatile unit is completely modular to address the needs of users at any stage of the AM industry, whether start-up or full-scale production. With safety and contamination prevention in mind, not only does the Russell AMPro Sieve Station™ (click on the link for the full product video) minimize operator exposure to powders, the system is ATEX and ETL compliant. The unit can also be inert gas purged, preserving metal powders such as aluminium or titanium and others that are susceptible to oxidation and moisture exposure.
Ultimately, the Russell AMPro Sieve Station™ supports the evolution of the AM industry through guaranteeing the quality of AM powders on any scale, at any stage of the production process. It is vital that the quality of powders is safeguarded, with a system that minimizes the risk of operator involvement and has the capacity to support full scale production.