Global industrial automation provider Piab AB, headquartered in Stockholm, Sweden, is offering a range of solutions for the handling of metal powders in the Additive Manufacturing industry. With increasing demands on safety, process reliability and quality, the company sees the need for automating metal powder handling to establish the technology as a standard process in the medical, aerospace and automotive sectors.
Metal powder handling requires special attention due to its hazardous potential for employees, explosiveness, and high monetary value.
Piab states that the solution to these three issues is a closed and automated metal powder handling process, based on vacuum conveying technology. A technology which has already proven to be an optimal solution in the pharma and chemical industries, which face similar material handling challenges.
The company’s vacuum conveyors are said to offer a small footprint with low building height, easy cleaning, low noise levels and ATEX certifications in the Additive Manufacturing industry. The contained and enclosed system minimises the spread of the dust during transportation of the material, minimising the exposure and making Piab’s vacuum technology ideally suited to transfer metal powders. Moreover, it keeps the material from contamination with impurities from other particles.
Piab has configured specific setups of its premium piFLOW®p vacuum conveyor for different pure metal and alloy types, as well as different production settings, and can be used in filling the AM machine, sieve or hopper, or to reclaim metal powder from the AM machine.
In the filling stage, virgin or reclaimed metal powder is transported from a sieve/metal barrel or hopper to the AM machine. Piab’s vacuum conveyors can pick-up powder directly from the barrel and feed the AM machine, thereby increasing productivity as well as employee safety.
To identify the optimal conveying set-ups for the Additive Manufacturing industry, Piab has run numerous tests with various typical AM materials, including stainless steel and aluminium powders. For quantities between 200–500 kg, distances of up to 50 m where achievable, as were height differences of up to 8 m.
Additional accessories, such as feed nozzles and adapters, as well as a module to fit the receiver are available — as are customised solutions for inert gas applications and compact style conveyors.