The metal additive manufacturing (AM) materials market is shifting from high-cost/top performance alloys such as titanium and nickel superalloys to more affordable materials that still offer adequate performance in larger batches. Aluminum is expected to be among the key materials in the shift toward larger batch production of mass goods.
SmarTech Publishing, and industry analyst firm, expects the market for aluminum alloys in AM to become a major segment in metal 3D printing, with materials revenues topping $300 million by 2028.
In this report, SmarTech Publishing maps and quantifies the use of aluminum alloys in AM. The report differentiates between alloys that were originally developed for die-casting applications (and are now being optimized for AM) and a new family of AM-specific alloys such as Scalmalloy supplied by APWorks (Airbus) and its global partners. The report further breaks down its analysis and forecasts to specific alloy aluminum alloy families (Al7xxx, Al6xxx, Al2xxx and even AL1xxx) that leading companies are using or developing for AM applications.
Key points from the report:
–Corporate interest in aluminum powder for additive manufacturing is at an all-time high.
–Aluminum alloys such as Aluminum Silicon (AlSiMg) are used almost exclusively for prototyping and tooling. However, aluminum is expected to be among the key materials in the shift toward larger batch production of mass goods.
–The widespread use of design for additive manufacturing (DfAM) practices is expected to play a major role in the growing adoption of aluminum alloys.
–The high thermal conductivity of aluminum and its alloys makes them difficult to cast and weld. For laser melting, things get worse. Aluminum powders are inherently light and have a poor flowability during recoating. They are also highly reflective and have a high thermal conductivity when compared to other materials.
–Aluminum alloys are expected to become relevant for production of parts in the civil aviation industry (general and commercial aviation).
–Demand for metal additive manufacturing systems in the automotive industry is increasing because of the acceptance of printed metal tooling for indirect manufacturing of traditional automotive components, as well as research and development projects for printed aluminum alloys.
–Overall requirements for additive metal powders, regardless of metal type or specific AM process used, include purity, flowability, porosity, and batch consistency.
–Laser-based powder bed fusion systems are more widely used for Aluminum Alloys and are supported by at least 11 manufacturers worldwide, although possibly more at a regional level.
–Although Metal Injection Molding has worked well for decades for a range of metals and alloys, the process has proved to be unsuitable for aluminum. However, researchers at the Technical University Vienna (TU Wien) recently succeeded in developing a Powder Injection Molding process for aluminum, which can be used to manufacture complex-shaped, weight saving components in a material-efficient manner.
–For reactive materials such as aluminum, atomization and packaging must be performed in a protective atmosphere. In all known processes for the production of aluminum powder, inert gas is used to preserve the spherical shape of the particles.
–Atomization in air leads to an immediate partial oxidation of the liquid material and prevents the liquid metal from transforming into spherical shape making the powder unsuitable for additive manufacturing processes.
–Aluminum has proven historically challenging to additively manufacture—leading the development of materials to head in two directions. One is the AM qualification of aluminum alloys developed for die-cast applications, the other is the development of new aluminum-based high-performance alloys that can leverage the advantages of AM processes in terms of geometry.
–The most significant potential opportunity for the future resides in Scalmalloy-like alloys, which can be used for cost-effective production of high-strength, weight optimized, end-use, functional parts in aerospace and automotive. SmarTech Publishing expects that over the course of the next decade specialty aluminum alloys will overtake die-cast alloys for powder bed fusion AM processes.
–Competition in the market for aluminum AM powder is intensifying although most major specialized AM powder manufacturers do not yet provide it. SmarTech Publishing expects that within the next two years several major AM powder providers and hardware suppliers will begin offering or will be readying to offer aluminum alloy powders for AM.
Additional details of the report titled, “Markets for Aluminum Alloys in Additive Manufacturing: 2018 To 2028” are available at: https://www.smartechpublishing.com/product/markets-aluminum-alloys-additive-manufacturing-2018-2028/