With no need for molds or other tooling, additive manufacturing (AM) can deliver parts with less setup lead time than the existing supply chain, and with design innovations not possible through conventional methods. But for AM to be prepared to realize these advantages, it needs feedstock ready and waiting. Minimum order quantities may not apply to 3D printed parts, but scale can still be a limitation in acquiring the raw material.
Metal powders in particular can be a bottleneck. Part of the challenge is that most of the gas atomizers used to make 3D printable metal powders were not originally built for this application, and are also utilized to produce materials for other manufacturing processes such as metal injection molding (MIM). Additive manufacturing does not command the full capacity of its material suppliers, and therefore its users can find themselves competing against other industries and applications for the capacity to make the materials they need.
Easing this bottleneck is the goal for KBM Advanced Materials Carpenter Additive, Höganäs AB and Tekna Holdings AS as its first material suppliers, and offering a selection of stainless steel, nickel, aluminum, titanium and cobalt alloy powders to start. In addition to distributing these and other powders, KBM also expects to be active in recapturing excess material. The company will accept back overused powder for refurbishment or recycling, and credit the customer for the material to incentivize these returns.
Later this year, KBM expects to expand its distribution model to Europe, and in 2022 to Asia. More types of materials and other 3D printing consumables could also travel along its distribution network.
“Additive manufacturing is difficult enough already,” Kemper says, “so we’re looking for and reducing the friction points.”