Q. What are the requisites of additive manufacturing processes?
A. Additive manufacturing gives the best results if the external environment is perfectly favorable. In metal additive manufacturing, the build-up of components in a controlled environment and minimizing the infiltration of impurities into the materials is of utmost importance. For example, the use of industrial gases such as argon and nitrogen creates an environment which is best suited for building metal parts use in the automotive and aerospace industries.
Q. Is the selection of gas important for 3D printing? Which gas best serves the need?
A. Yes, enormously. The selection of high-purity atmospheric gases is critically important for carrying out additive manufacturing. 3D printing involves the localized heating of metals; it thus requires a gas that can prevent oxidation of the metal and limit the impact of stresses during the reaction.
Argon provides the most inert atmosphere for the majority of 3D printing processes. In the manufacture of specialty metal powders employing gas atomization techniques, argon provides the highest degree of inertness possible in the atmosphere. Several 3D printing processes employ high temperatures, wherein oxygen and nitrogen react with advanced materials to form compounds that are detrimental to health. The inclusion of these detrimental oxides and nitrides could result in defects in the final product.
Argon prevents oxidation of the metal and other reactions that can take place, thereby limiting the impact of stress during the process. Not only this, argon can be mixed with gases to form specialty blends as required.
Q. How is argon suitable for specialty 3D printing processes?
A. In specialty 3D processes such as selective laser melting (SLM), the effect of inert gas flow in the heating chamber creates a huge impact on the reproducibility of key attributes of the final product. For instance, in the construction of porous titanium components, the effect of gas flow impacts the porosity and compression strength of the metal powder. Hence, the flow of the gas in the chamber is related to characteristics of the manufactured parts.
The use of argon gas creates the perfect environment to carry out selective laser melting. The use of argon keeps a tight control on the atmosphere, which is free of oxygen. Using this process with considerably high amounts of argon, however, requires an oxygen monitor as a safety measure.
Q. What are the growth prospects of the 3D printing gases market in the future?
A. The use of 3D printing technologies across a host of applications holds promise for the 3D printing gases market. The medical sector is viewed as one of the early adopters of 3D printing with other industry sectors such as aerospace, automotive, architecture, and fashion expected to follow suit.