Additive Manufacturing Powder

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Overview of Additive Manufacturing Powder

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, utilizes various materials in powder form to construct parts and products layer by layer. The type of powder selected depends on the specific additive manufacturing process being used, as well as the desired characteristics of the finished part.

Some of the key types of additive manufacturing powders include:

  • Metal Powders – Used in powder bed fusion and directed energy deposition processes. Common materials include titanium, aluminum, steel, nickel alloys, and cobalt-chrome.
  • Polymer Powders – Used in powder bed fusion and material jetting processes. Common materials include nylon, ABS, polycarbonate, polystyrene, and thermoplastic polyurethane.
  • Ceramic Powders – Used in binder jetting and material extrusion processes. Common materials include silica, alumina, zirconia, and porcelain.
  • Sand and Casting Powders – Used in binder jetting processes to create molds and cores for metal castings. Usually silica-based.
  • Biocompatible and Bioactive Powders – Used in medical applications. Common materials include titanium, hydroxyapatite, and tricalcium phosphate.

The characteristics of additive manufacturing powders can significantly influence the properties, quality, accuracy, and performance of printed parts. Key powder properties include:

Additive Manufacturing Powder Composition

Additive manufacturing utilizes metallic, polymeric, ceramic, sand, and other powder materials with specific compositions tailored to various printing processes.

Metal Powders

TypeCommon Compositions
Titanium alloysTi-6Al-4V, Ti-6Al-7Nb, Ti-Al-Fe, Ti-Al-Mn, Ti-Al-Sn
Aluminum alloysAlSi10Mg, AlSi12, Scalmalloy
Steel alloys17-4PH, 316L, 304L, 4140
Nickel alloysInconel 625, 718; Hastelloy X

Polymer Powders

TypeCommon Compositions
NylonNylon 11, Nylon 12
ABSAcrylonitrile butadiene styrene
PolycarbonateBisphenol A polycarbonate
PolystyrenePS, High impact PS
Thermoplastic PolyurethaneTPU

Ceramic Powders

TypeCommon Compositions
SilicaFused quartz, cristobalite
ZirconiaZrO2, YSZ (yttria stabilized)
PorcelainMix of glass, clay and feldspar

Sand and Casting Powders

Silica sandMostly SiO2, with traces of metal oxides and nonmetal oxides
Zircon sandZirconium silicate
Olivine sandMagnesium iron silicate
Chromite sandIron chromium oxide

Bioactive and Biocompatible Powders

TypeCommon Compositions
Titanium and alloysPure titanium, Ti-6Al-4V
Tricalcium phosphateCa3(PO4)2
additive manufacturing powder
Additive Manufacturing Powder 3

Additive Manufacturing Powder Properties

The key properties of additive manufacturing powders that influence part quality and process performance include:

Particle size distributionRange and distribution of powder particle dimensionsAffects powder flowability, packing density, layer uniformity, resolution
Morphology and shapeAspect ratio and shape factors of powder particlesImpacts spreading, packing density, powder flow
DensityMass to volume ratio of the bulk powderDetermines weight and dimensional accuracy of parts
FlowabilityAbility of powder to flow freely under applied stressVital for uniform spreading and recoating of powder layers
Moisture contentPercentage water content in the powderHigh moisture causes powder agglomerations and printing defects
Chemical compositionElemental composition and phases presentDefines mechanical properties, microstructure, and performance of finished parts

Additive Manufacturing Powder Applications

Additive manufacturing powders are used to print functional components across major industries:

IndustryApplicationsMaterials Used
AerospaceTurbine blades, aircraft components, rocket enginesTitanium alloys, nickel alloys, aluminum alloys, cobalt chrome
AutomotivePrototyping, production of parts like gears, bracketsAluminum alloys, nylon, ABS
MedicalDental copings, implants, surgical instrumentsTitanium alloys, cobalt chrome, stainless steel
ConsumerJewelry, decorative objects, lighting fixturesPrecious metals like gold, silver; polymers

Additive Manufacturing Powder Specifications

Powder materials used in specific additive manufacturing process conform to certain size, composition, property thresholds:

ProcessParticle SizeAlloy GradeStandards
Powder bed fusion15-45 micronsTi-6Al-4V ELI per ASTM F3001ASTM F3049, ASTM F2924, ASTM F2971
Binder jetting20-60 microns420 or 316 stainless steelASTM F3301, MPIF 35
Material jetting5-25 microns60-65 Shore D polyurethane
Directed energy deposition45-150 micronsInconel 718, 316L stainless steelASTM F3055, ASTM F3302

Additive Manufacturing Powder Suppliers

There is a robust network of suppliers offering a wide array of metal, polymer, ceramic and composite additive manufacturing powders:

CompanyPowder MaterialsCost Range
LPW TechnologyTitanium alloys, aluminum alloys, stainless steel, nickel alloys$100-$500 per kg
Sandvik OspreyStainless steel alloys, nickel alloys, cobalt alloys$50-$250 per kg
Advanced Powders & CoatingsNylon-based polymers, PEEK, PEKK$80-$600 per kg
The ExOne CompanyStainless steel, tool steel, tungsten carbide, Inconel 625$75-$1000 per kg
HöganäsStainless steel, iron-based alloys$30-$150 per kg
KennametalTungsten carbide-cobalt, 17-4PH stainless$100-$1200 per kg
3DCeramAlumina ceramic, zirconia ceramic, silica$100-$250 per kg

Comparison Between Additive Manufacturing Powders

There are considerable differences between various powder options regarding production processes, cost, part properties and quality:

ParameterPolymer PowderMetal PowderCeramic Powder
Build rateMediumSlowFast
ResolutionMediumHighMedium to low
Part strengthLow to mediumVery highMedium to high
Part accuracyMediumMedium to highLow to medium
Surface finishMediumHighLow to medium
Thermal propertiesLow melting point, low conductivityHigh melting point, high conductivityHigh melting point, low conductivity
Cost per partLow to mediumHighMedium

Advantages of Using Powder Bed Additive Manufacturing

Some of the major advantages of using powder bed technology for manufacturing parts include:

  • Ability to create complex, lightweight geometries not possible with casting or machining
  • Minimal raw material waste since unused powder is recycled
  • Does not require dedicated tooling or molds, allowing rapid prototyping
  • Parts show high strength, durability, heat and corrosion resistance matching wrought materials
  • Porosity and microstructure can be easily controlled
  • Multiple materials and alloys, even graded compositions are printable
  • Just-in-time production with minimal lead times is enabled
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Additive Manufacturing Powder 4

Limitations of Powder Bed Additive Manufacturing

Some drawbacks associated with powder bed additive manufacturing that need to be considered:

  • High equipment and operational costs compared to other processes
  • Additional post-processing like Hot Isostatic Pressing is often essential
  • Powder handling procedures and equipment require special attention
  • Printing of certain flexible polymers and rubber-like materials poses challenges
  • Not ideal for very high volume and mass production scenarios
  • Size constraints posed by build chamber dimensions may require redesigning large parts


Q: What is the most commonly used metal powder for additive manufacturing?

A: Titanium alloys like Ti-6Al-4V are one of the most popular metal powders, due to their high strength to weight ratio and biocompatibility. Aluminum alloys, stainless steels, cobalt chrome, and nickel superalloys are also very commonly used.

Q: How fine are the powders used in AM processes?

A: The typical size range is 10-100 microns, though some processes can use ultrafine 1-10 micron nano powders. Finer powders below 20 microns result in better resolution and accuracy.

Q: What affects the pricing of additive manufacturing powders?

A: Raw material costs, composition, alloy type, particle characteristics like size distribution, flowability and morphology, purity levels, and purchase volume dictate prices. Complex alloys are costlier than simpler ones.

Q: Does the shape of powder particles matter for additive manufacturing?

A: Yes, spherical powders with good flowability, pack density and spreadability perform much better compared to highly irregular or angular powders during printing. The particle shape influences density, layer uniformity and surface finish.

Q: Can any off-the-shelf powders be used for AM processes?

A: Not always – most processes require custom powders with compositions, sizes and shapes tailored specifically for 3D printing applications to ensure ideal flow and fusion. Only established manufacturers with stringent quality control are recommended.

Q: How is unused metal powder reused or recycled in additive manufacturing?

A: After prints, the unsintered powder is filtered to remove large agglomerates and then blended with small quantities of fresh powder, to maintain its flowability, density and composition within tight limits. This powder recycling reduces costs and waste substantially.

Q: What causes layer delamination issues in powder bed 3D printing?

A: Insufficient bonding between layers results from improper preheating, uneven powder distribution, inadequate energy input, unfavorable thermal gradients or poor particle packing density among the common reasons. Optimizing process parameters is vital.

Q: Are additive manufacturing metal powders flammable hazards?

Many reactive elemental and alloy powders are highly flammable when finely divided. Proper ventilation, electrical grounding of equipment, specialized exhaust systems, spark detection and fire suppression are essential safety measures. Powder storage and handling also needs special precautions.

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