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High quality and cost-effective metal powder for manufacturing lower weight components with improved properties for transport vehicles

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - INNOMAQ21 (High quality and cost-effective metal powder for manufacturing lower weight components with improved properties for transport vehicles)

Reporting period: 2017-02-01 to 2017-05-31

The overall objectives of INNOPOWDER SME Instrument Phase I were to study the feasibility for the market launch of high quality, low cost metal powder, optimized for the production of additively manufactured (AM) components for the transport industry. In this study, the market potential of this metal powder has been analyzed from a technical and economic point of view, considering different entry barriers like the state of the art, related technologies, competitors, pricing benchmark, market size and growth forecasts.

AM manufacturing is making considerable progress towards becoming a mainstream option for series production. It does not need tools (e.g. molds and dies) and can produce very complex shapes and geometric features. The production of final parts using AM facilitates small batch sizes, custom parts, lightweight structures, complex internal features, low cost decentralization of production and the consolidation of many previously separate parts into one. These properties present a clear advantage over traditional metal component manufacturing techniques for the transport sector (automobile, aerospace, …).
The supply chain for metal powders used in AM is currently experiencing exponential growth. Nonetheless, the current powder quality and price offered in the market are limitating the potential of the metal AM industry.
INNOPOWDER is a cost-effective and high quality powder for transport component manufacturers to produce parts using AM technologies. INNOPOWDER will allow manufacturers to increase their productivity by reducing scrap, increasing cycle speeds and component design flexibility, and reducing production costs.
The benchmark study done during Phase I demonstrates INNOPOWDER’s superiority in the main product quality aspects and the cost calculation shows a dramatic decrease versus current alternatives already present in the market. As a result of this feasibility study (FS) we are convinced that INNOPOWDER has a very attractive value proposition for the industry, mainly focusing on the transport and industrial tooling market segments, and it will provide a very attractive return on investment (ROI).

The society will benefit from a faster implementation of the metal AM industry. This industry will allow to reduce drastically the components’s weight and therefore the final weight of cars, planes and other vehicles. This weight savings will lead to a drastic reduction of emissions to the atmosphere with the resulting positive impact on the environment. AM technologies enable utilizing only the amount of material needed for the manufacture of the product and also have the potential to reduce the life cycle material mass and energy consumed relative to conventional subtractive techniques (eliminating scrap, eliminating the use of harmful ancillary processes, raw material and consumables usage). Certain AM techniques also have the capability to completely eliminate supply chain operations associated to the production of new tooling by their capability to enable repair and remanufacturing of obsolete or failed tooling, or by eliminating the necessary usage of industrial tooling to produce the component entirely.
To accelerate the implementation of these technologies, there are some barriers to overcome, one of the most important is enabling access to high quality metal powders optimized for different applications at an affordable cost than presently. INNOPOWDER offers a wide range of metal powders at a demonstrated higher quality than the current market players and at a price 5 to 6 times lower.
During this period, our company has been working in two main directions: the technical and the commercial. With regard to the technical point of view, it has carried out a comparative study and characterization of its own and other commercially available metal powders (technical benchmark). This benchmark has clearly proven that INNOPOWDER is superior to competitor products in featuring a spherical particle morphology and shape, non-agglomerated powder, practically without satellites and a narrow particle size distribution. With regard to the commercial point of view, the company has been exploring the current market particularities for metal powders, interviewing with experts, acquiring and analyzing the most reputed studies in this field and analyzing competitors’ strategies. What this feasibility study has corroborated is that INNOPOWDER will be the leading market solution for the anaysed application segments, it has a significant target market and we have defined a clear business strategy to achieve a successful market launch. The results of the feasibility study confirm a great potential for our product, once the final development phases have been executed.
Current metal powder (MP) needs to be improved to use the AM technology for the production of metal components at large scale. For some applications, the quality of the MP is sufficient, but at prices which are not accessible for the industry in general. For many potential applications, the quality of the powder will have to be improved. In the same way, there are technologies which produce metal powder at low price, but then the quality of the powder is not acceptable to be used in most AM technologies.
For the moment, the range of materials produced in metal powder for metal AM is still narrow. There are many alloys which are not offered in powder format and the competitive environment is very restricted to few suppliers, which are frequently under the control of AM machine manufactures, allowing them a huge commercial margin.
INNOPOWDER tackles and facilitates overcoming both state of the art problems, it can offer a very competitive solution resulting from a significant reduction of production costs and therefore the possibility of market placing our product at a significantly reduced market price, and second it enables broadening the product range that can be produced by metal AM based on its improved product properties and performance.

The Airbus A320 Nacelle Hinge Bracket case study is one of the most relevant case studies to demonstrate the significant savings that can be achieved for additively manufactured metal components. It demonstrates how the weight of the AM manufactured component can be lowered by a 64% from 918g to 326g, while satisfying the same mechanical requirements. This result can be extrapolated to other metal components used in transport vehicles. Considering that for each kilogram of weight reduction approximately 20 tonnes of CO2 emissions can be saved over an average cycle life of a vehicle, it becomes clear that AM manufactured transport components will be a key enabling technology for achieving the objectives pursued by the EU to mitigate climate change. It furthermore highlights the importance of accelerating the industrial viability of metal AM for its implementation in the transport sector at broad level. For this to happen, the supply of high-quality metal powder at reduced costs will be essential.
Electron microscopy micrograph of atomized powder.