Research advances on developing extra-low cost, high performance 3D printing Ti powder 

Laser-based 3D printing of metallic materials has drawn great attention from both academia and industries. The scenario is closely related to adventures of low-cost, high power lasers, and maturation of the various laser-based 3d printers and laser processing itself. Among the various printable materials, Ti and Ti alloys are likely the most vital ones, showing great potential for the aerospace, biomedical and personalized jewelry industries. Compared with the rapid improvement in hardware and software, the raw materials end, however, is progressing at a rather slow pace. Nowadays we often see that two kilos of Ti powder are almost as expensive as 1 ton of steel, which is extraordinary, unsustainable and must be addressed if a larger scale of commercial application is hoped for the 3D printed Ti and Ti alloys. 

    This paper published in OEA is addressing this critical issue. It basically provides an answer to the question: Is it possible to provide ultra-low cost Ti powder for 3D printing for both the research community and the industries? The answer is yes. One of the possible routes, as demonstrated by the study, is through powder modification based on using the initially unprintable, hydrogenation-dehydrogenation (HDH) Ti powder. Aside from the greatly reduced cost (down to ~ US$30/kg), it is equally critical to see that the as-printed Ti shows wonderful combination of high strength (tensile strength at ~ 890 MPa) and good ductility (~ 19%). 

(a) SEM-SE image of unmodified HDH-Ti powder. (b) SEM-SE image of the modified HDH-Ti powder which shows near spherical morphology. (c) The powder spread record for the unmodified HDH-Ti powder (fails to spread onto substrate). (d) The powder spread record for the modified HDH-Ti powder (which is printable).

Doctor Ming Yan’s group in Southern University of Science and Technology (SUSTech) is working primarily on the 3D printing of various materials. Dr. Yan has published more than 100 book chapters and journal papers. His group is focusing on developing ultra-low cost, high performance Ti powders at the moment and aiming to extend the methodology to the development of other important Ti materials such as Ti-6Al-4V and heat-resistant Ti alloys, e.g., Ti-8Al-1Mo-1V. Their research is supported by the Humboldt Foundation (Germany), Development and Reform Commission of Shenzhen Municipality, Shenzhen Peacock Programme, and research funding from Guangdong Province. 

Hou Y H, Liu B, Liu Y, Zhou Y H, Song T T, Zhou Q et al. Ultra-low cost Ti powder for selective laser melting additive manufacturing and superior mechanical properties associated. Opto-Electron Adv 2, 180028 (2019).