Australia-Based Aurora Labs has been developing a powerful 3D metal printing system, but it turns out they’re also working on a metal powder system.
The company has a very interesting strategy that hopes to open up new markets to large-scale 3D metal printing, and I think I know how their powder initiative may fit into this plan.
Their 3D metal printing technology uses powdered metal to form solid metal objects. So far they’ve developed an initial platform that’s being marketed to institutions for research purposes at a very low cost: only around USD$50,000 for a 3D metal printer, which is a fraction of the typical cost of most commercial 3D metal printers.
But that’s not really their goal. Instead they hope to develop a very rapid 3D metal printing machine that would be suitable for use in remote locations. The idea is to, for example, enable a remote mine to very quickly reproduce broken mining equipment parts onsite, rather than wait for expensive shipment of the replacement from a distant factory. This keeps the mine in operation for much more time by avoiding repair delays. It’s a very interesting strategy and they’ve even developed some highly useful partnerships to do so.
Their target machine, however, is the “RMP 1”, which has a goal of being able to 3D print an astonishing 300kg of metal each day. That’s just the thing you’d need to produce large replacement parts for a mine, isn’t it?
Now they’ve announced something quite different: it’s apparently a prototype of a powder generation machine, capable of producing metal powder that is suitable for use in their equipment. They already produce powder, but this seems to be a potential new product.
As is their printer, this powder system is also to be low cost. They explain:
The prototype PPU is intended to test and demonstrate the technology for producing very high-quality powders for use with 3D metal printers at substantially lower cost than existing processes.
Traditional processes of manufacturing spherical metal powder suitable for 3D printing applications produce a very wide size distribution (from very small to very large powder particles) of powder. Typically, only a fraction of the powder that is produced is in the correct size range for use in printing. The balance has to be recycled or allocated to other markets.
By having a very tight size distribution (i.e. where all the powder particles are close to each other in size), Aurora’s process potentially will result in much higher yields when compared to traditional processes.
That’s all quite interesting, but I suspect there’s another motive here: remote production of 3D metal printing powder. If you have a 3D metal printer located in a remote mine, why not ALSO have the material produced there too? And I suppose it might even be theoretically possible for the mine itself to produce the raw material for the powder system – that’s where metal comes from! This could lower the price of onsite 3D printing very dramatically.
I don’t know if that last bit is actually possible, I but I am sure the friendly folks at Aurora Labs are looking into it.
At this point the company is only stating that this is a “prototype Powder Production Unit”, and is definitely not even at the beta testing stage.
But that will come next.
Via Aurora Labs