Thursday, December 5, 2013

News: Metalysis now in 3D

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Metalysis, the Rotherham-based technology innovator for the speciality metals industry, has seen its low-cost titanium powder used to 3D print automotive and jet engine parts in the Mercury Centre at the University of Sheffield.

Metalysis holds the worldwide exploitation rights to the FCC Cambridge process which sees specialist powder metals created in a simple, cost effective process with significant environmental benefits.

The Manvers company is in the process of commercialising the technology to produce titanium, tantalum, and related high value alloys. These are used increasingly by major worldwide industries such as aerospace, marine, medical, chemical, automotive and electronics.

Reports this week in the Financial Times suggested that Metalysis are in talks with commercial partners to build a $500m titanium industrial plant to use its new process of making low-cost titanium powder.

The investor and grant backed Cambridge University spin out has developed the electrochemical reduction process to transform metal oxides, such as ores, directly into metal powders in a single step. Currently focusing on titanium and tantalum, the process uses less energy than traditional processes as it does not require the melting of metals, and the salt used in producing the metals can be recycled.

The process also means that innovative alloys can be tailored to have the desired properties for specific applications and the creation of cheaper metal powders is also expected to drive forward the adoption of 3D printing in specialist metal products.

The Mercury Centre draws on the expertise of engineering capabilities and developments at the University of Sheffield and focuses on researching powder-based processes.

In recent tests, several jet engine parts were built using Metalysis titanium, including guide vanes for jet engines. They follow reports that Rolls-Royce and General Electric are investigating the use of 3D printing and additive manufacturing in the production of their engines.

Professor Iain Todd, director of the Mercury Centre, said: "There are significant challenges to overcome in taking emerging technologies like metallic 3D printing from the lab to production, not least of which is material cost. The step-change in terms of process economics that this material breakthrough provides takes us ever closer to the time when 3D Printing of metals such as titanium is considered the norm rather than exceptional."

Metalysis is working on a new scale-up plan for the business based on simpler and cheaper production cells and on partnering with leading metals companies who can help with engineering scale-up and market adoption.

Dr Dion Vaughan, chief executive of Metalysis, said in a recent interview with BNN: "Titanium really is the big prize, it's a wonder metal. It's light, it's strong, it does most of the things that steel does but it's corrosion resistant as well. It's only major problem is that it's very expensive."

And that's where Metalysis' cost effective process comes in. Vaughan added: "We are looking at scaling up Titanium [production]. That's going to require bigger industrial units but we've got our plans and our financing worked out for that.

"The Metalysis process could reduce the price of titanium by as much as 75 per cent, making titanium almost as cheap as speciality steels. We believe that titanium made by the Metalysis process could replace the current use of aluminium and steel in many products. This world-first for a titanium 3D printed component brings us a step closer to making this a reality."

He also added that next year the company aims to scale up production to be able to produce 60 tonnes per year of tantalum, the inert metal used in medical equipment and electronic capacitors.

Metalysis website

Images: Metalysis

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