6K Additive has announced the commercial scale production of refractory metal powders for 3D printing. Refractory metals are a group of metals on the periodic table with the distinct quality of an absurdly high melting point, which makes them difficult to fabricate but very useful for high temperature and high pressure applications in space, the aerospace, medicine and defense. The transformation of these metals into powder is carried out using the proprietary 6K production scale microwave plasma system, the UniMelt. Quadrus Corporation was able to use the 6K refractory metal powder in the production of rocket engine groove inserts.
6K is itself a leader in the sustainable production of advanced materials for energy storage and additive manufacturing. At the heart of the business is UniMelt, the industry’s only commercial grade plasma production system. The UniMelt is able to produce materials for energy storage and additive manufacturing in a fraction of the time and with little or no waste compared to conventional manufacturing processes. Earlier this year, the UniMelt platform won the Best Product of the Year award for environmental and energy leadership.
The UniMelt process uses the fourth phase of matter, plasma, to create a uniform high temperature production zone four inches in diameter and eight feet long, the entire machine measures 20 feet by 20 feet and can produce 100 tons of material per year. By combining several processes into one, this type of manufacturing cuts the time from days to seconds compared to conventional manufacturing and allows scrap metal to be used as a raw material. The system reaches an internal temperature of 6000 ° Kelvin, the temperature of the surface of the sun, hence the name 6K.
The company announced that it is now able to use its UniMelt system to manufacture refractory metals such as tungsten, rhenium and niobutin. Refractory metals have melting points above 3,632 ° F and always have three, four or five electrons in their shells, forming strong covalent bonds with neighboring atoms. This results in high melting points compared to other metals, such as titanium or nickel. Tungsten has the highest melting point of all metals at 6,192 ° F.
Frank Roberts, President of 6K Additive, said: “Leading defense organizations are not just looking for refractory materials like tungsten and rhenium, they are looking for them at the production scale. The uniqueness of the UniMelt® 6K microwave plasma process, combined with the expertise of our operations team, has enabled us to manufacture production scale volumes for many refractory powders such as tungsten and tungsten / rhenium. We have spheroidized the entire spectrum of refractory powders, including tantalum, niobium and molybdenum, and we are ready to help organizations advance their applications with these materials.
Alabama-based Quadrus Corporation uses 6K tungsten rhenium metal powder to 3D print a non-eroding throat insert for a powder rocket motor nozzle. In the past, the company has 3D printed innovative solutions for NASA, part of the disruption 3D printing has had on space travel and homes.
“We are focused on propulsion applications that require high temperature, high strength materials used in modern rocket nozzle applications. Our 6K spheroidal tungsten / rhenium powder has been exceptionally well processed in our selective laser melting machines, ”said Joe Sims, director of Quadrus Advanced Manufacturing. “Having a reliable and trusted supply chain partner like 6K Additive for Refractory Materials is essential for our business and for our defense customers. Our powder quality requirements are extremely high and the 6K additive easily overcame this hurdle for us. “
6K has been very busy the past few years, developing new technologies, manufacturing techniques, new partnerships, customers and numerous rounds of funding. Its exclusive UniMelt system is backed by 18 patents and is the only one of its kind in the industry. It will be exciting to see the partnerships and customers that refractory metals will bring to 6K.