The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) and nine other European partners are collaborating in the design, scale-up and build of a high energy ball-mill (HEBM) pilot plant for the production and validation of nanostructured powders.

The powders are suitable for applications such as cutting tools, medical implants and a range of aerospace and automotive components.

The work is part of a four-year European research and development project entitled ‘PilotManu’ which began in 2013 and is due for completion in September 2017. The project has already experienced good results regarding the performance of the advanced powders for use in abrasive tools.

The €5.3 million project involves ten partner organisations across seven countries, bringing together various capabilities such as process engineering, materials investigation, product development and prototyping, characterisation, application testing and process economics. The project partners include CPI alongside MBN Nanomaterialia, IMDEA Materials Institute, +90, Putzier, INOP, Manudirect, IMPACT INNOVATIONS GmbH, Matres and Diam Edil SA.

Advanced powders

PilotManu is manufacturing the nanostructured powders using a proprietary high energy ball milling technology developed by lead partner MBN Nanomaterialia. The technology will allow for the manufacture of innovative advanced powders with ultrafine crystalline structures that could have improved strength, reduced weight or improved wear, corrosion or thermal resistance, the partners say.

Currently low productivity and high material costs remain a major barrier for the commercialisation of advanced powders that are manufactured by high energy ball milling techniques. PilotManu is working to remove this barrier by scaling-up the manufacturing process and improving production efficiencies.

‘We are delighted with the progress of the PilotManu project so far,’ said Dr Charanjeet Singh, Innovation Manager at CPI. ‘The consortium has been able to design and scale-up the manufacturing process. The pilot plant will come online in the next few months and we anticipate the production of some truly innovative powders which will be validated for their suitability and performance in a number of value adding applications. [...]  Once concluded, the consortium will demonstrate the technological and economical viability of the pilot line by incorporating the powders into advanced materials targeted at a number of applications such as wear resistant coatings, abrasive tools and additive manufacturing applications. The nano-scale features of these materials will allow for significant improvements in material performance such as physical-chemical-mechanical properties compared against bulk scale materials.’

Additive manufacturing

‘The new pilot manufacturing line, based on the upscaling of a current HEBM facility, will increase production by ten times and allow us to enter the market for three main lines of innovative products and technologies; the diamond tool industry, CerMet and alloys for wear resistant coatings and new mechanical alloyed composites for additive manufacturing,’ said project coordinator Professor Paolo Matteazzi from MBN Nanomaterialia. ‘Beside applications being developed in the project, the new pilot line will allow us to exploit the potential of advanced materials synthesized by HEBM in additional areas such as energy harvesting materials using high temperature thermoelectrics, metal hydrides for energy storage and high temperature ODS alloys for fossil energy application and also nano-composite polymers for functional textiles and packaging.’

This story uses material from CPI, with editorial changes made by Materials Today. The views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent those of Elsevier.