Liz Nickels spoke to Linde, one of the leading gas providers in the world, about how additive manufacturing (AM) providers and users need to think carefully about the various aspects of industrial when 3D printing metal parts.

The rise of 3D printing – or additive manufacturing (AM) – has rapidly gained in popularity as it provides a number of compelling benefits including shorter lead times and reduced waste. At its core, AM refers to the building up of 3D components layer by layer from metal powder through laser technology - typically laser metal fusion or laser metal deposition. The production process occurs in a protective atmosphere within the printer chamber which is preserved by gases such as argon or nitrogen. Absence of such gases would result in metal oxidizing while lasers melt the object's surface.

From the very outset of the AM process, industrial gases and their enabling technologies play a fundamental role, from argon and nitrogen used to atomize high-alloyed metals into small powder particles, or gases used for laser-based layering processes to bind the powdered metal alloys.

Linde Gases, a division of the Linde Group, headquartered in Munich, Germany, is now taking the lead in investigating how AM gas atmospheres can be optimized to improve the quality, and increase the repeatable quantity, of 3D printed parts.

Long relationship

In 2016, Linde reported group revenue of almost €17 billion, making it one of the largest gases and engineering companies in the world, with approximately 60,000 employees working in more than 100 countries worldwide.

Linde supplies atmospheric gases such as oxygen, nitrogen and argon, manufactured in its own air separation plants, while its product range also covers hydrogen, acetylene, carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, shielding gases for welding applications, noble gases and high-purity specialty gases. The company and the metal powder industry have had a long and fruitful relationship and the company's industrial gases segment already supplies gas for powder atomization, heat treatment (like annealing or sintering) and hot isostatic pressing (HIPing).

This article appeared in the July/Aug issue of Metal Powder Report. Log in to your free profile to access the article.

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