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The Purest of the Pure
Because Puris melts and casts its own titanium bars, the company can create some special alloys, including SM-100, which offers both corrosion and abrasion resistance.
Photo courtesy Puris LLC.
With the cleanest titanium powder in the world, Puris, LLC is making strong inroads into 3D printing
With the advent of 3D printing quickly changing the landscape of American manufacturing, Puris, LLC (now part of Carpenter Technology CEO Craig Kirsch says his company’s highly pure titanium powder is at the head of the demand curve for additive manufacturing materials.
The company just launched in early 2014 to meet the growing demand for high-purity titanium powder in 3D printing and claims to have the cleanest titanium powder in the world.
Everybody loves the technical aspects of titanium, specifically its high strength-to-weight ratio, making it ideal for aerospace applications. But the downside to titanium is that it’s expensive. This is where 3D printing comes in.
Additive manufacturing allows manufacturers to minimize the amount of raw material they use for a part, as opposed to CNC machining, which is a subtractive method and creates a lot of wasted, unused material.
“Where previously, you would have to buy a 100 pound slab of titanium to make a 20 pound part, now you only need to buy 21 pounds of (titanium) powder to make that part,” explained Puris Vice President of Engineering Solutions, Eric Bono, during a recent phone interview.
And because of the weight savings and, therefore, fuel savings, aerospace companies want to use titanium parts—from brackets to engine components—wherever they can replace steel. With the use of titanium powder and 3D printing, there’s a reduction in price for making the same component.
“And where it really gets exciting is you can redesign that component strictly for performance,” Bono said. “You don’t have to worry about having to machine it or worry about any hesitations that used to be involved in the design process. You can strictly design for performance and weight savings.”
With 3D printing, if you can design it, you can build it. This “shift” in how certain parts are designed will optimize their performance and most likely reduce their costs.
“We’re just at the beginnings of what 3D printing will ultimately do for a number of industries and what it will ultimately do for the United States,” Kirsch said, adding that his company is helping propel 3D printing forward. “The ability to print titanium is certainly growing, and we’re a part of that growth.”
Claim to Fame
Puris claims to have the highest-capacity, refractory-free titanium powder plant in America.
But how do they do it?
The secret is Puris’s patent-pending atomizer that is completely built of titanium, thereby eliminating the risk of contamination.
Puris, based in Hazelton, W.Va., was formed from two companies—FMW Composite Systems, Inc., which filed for bankruptcy in August 2013, and Summit Materials LLC. FMW was originally formed under a Title III program with the U.S. Department of Defense (DoD) in order to develop a superior titanium powder producer that could deliver titanium powder with absolutely no contaminants.
With the help of Fred Yolton, the inventor of gas atomization, FMW developed an entire atomizer made of titanium. All other atomizers in the world are made of stainless steel, which can contaminate the titanium powder, said Bono. Yolton, who is currently on the Puris team, is a leader in research that focuses on titanium powder metallurgy and subsequent consolidation, including development of titanium powder-making processes, characterization of titanium powder, and evaluation of consolidated powder products. He has published more than 50 papers on advanced materials, and Kirsch said his presence with Puris will help ensure that the company stays at the forefront of titanium powder advancements, especially with 3D printing.
The atomizer works by feeding a two- to three-inch diameter titanium bar down into a heated coil, which melts the titanium. The liquid titanium drips off the end of the bar and is then sprayed with high-pressure Argon gas.
The price of titanium powder is coming down because of companies like Puris, Bono said, who are bringing high capacity and innovative capabilities to the table and causing the price to drop. Puris, with its 50,000 square feet of manufacturing space, has more than 300,000 pounds of capacity and is planning on soon adding a second and third shift.
Titanium capacity will grow throughout the industry, but Puris has a sure advantage.
“Nobody has done titanium powder through an Argon gas system more than we have,” Kirsch said. “We will see an increase in capacity throughout the industry, but we think we’ll be the largest chunk of that.”
“Puris is a true national asset. We have technology available to only a handful of companies in the world, leading metallurgists in titanium powder, and the highest capacity, refractory-free titanium powder plant in America.” – Craig Kirsch, CEO.
Photo courtesy Puris LLC.
Puris was recently featured in AOL’s This Built America editorial series, which is travelling the country to spotlight companies in each state for their role in rebuilding American manufacturing. Puris was chosen by AOL to represent the state of West Virginia (www.thisbuiltamerica.com/west-virginia).
“Puris is a true national asset,” said Kirsch in a press release relating to his company’s presence in the AOL series. “Our technology is available to only a handful of companies in the world right now. We’ve engaged the leading metallurgists in titanium powder. And, we have the highest-capacity, refractory-free titanium powder plant in America.”
Speaking on how Puris’s innovations will impact 3D printing, Kirsch said his company’s titanium powder, used in conjunction with 3D printing, will save time and money.
“Puris is part of a larger story taking shape in American manufacturing today around the advent of 3D printing,” Kirsch said in the release. “Ultimately, this technology will empower engineers in such industries as aerospace, automotive, medical, and oil and gas, to re-imagine how parts are designed by alleviating the time and cost constraints of tool-and-die manufacturing. It is incredibly exciting to be at the front edge of the demand curve with a leading material for 3D printing—highly pure titanium powder.”
Purity Means Strength
How exactly does Puris succeed at producing the purest of titanium powder?
According to Bono, the bar of titanium that goes through the atomizer doesn’t touch anything.
“It goes through a coil and doesn’t touch it,” he said. “Other titanium processes use what’s called refractory or ceramic materials in the form of a big ceramic pot.”
But when titanium is put into that type of ceramic system, “bad things happen,” Bono said.
The ceramic system sucks the oxygen and the oxides out of the ceramic and ultimately finds its way into the titanium powder.
“The only way you’re not going to have those types of ceramic inclusions is to completely eliminate ceramic from your system. So that’s what we did,” Bono explained.
The purity of titanium for parts is important because it ensures strength, Kirsch said, adding that an inclusion is going to create a weak spot. “If there’s product failure, it’s going to be at the point where that inclusion was. So by eliminating inclusions, you have, by definition, a better, safer part.”
Because Puris, which is ISO 9001 and AS 9100 certified, melts and casts its own bars, the company can produce some special alloys.
For motor sports, the oil and gas industry, and other industries where corrosion resistance is an issue, Puris offers its SM-100 alloy. This alloy also offers abrasion resistance and is of particular interest to the oil and gas industry for parts that are at sea or deep down in the ground that they don’t want to replace, according to Kirsch.
Puris also announced that it recently signed an agreement making SB Specialty Metals the exclusive distributor of its proprietary SM-100 alloy into the knife community.
SM-100 is corrosion-proof, nonmagnetic, wear-resistant, and able to achieve hardness levels of 62RC. NASA deemed SM-100 to be immune to corrosion in salt water. This unique combination of corrosion and wear resistance is unsurpassed by any other structural metal.
SB Specialty Metals will offer standard knife blanks, as well as full sheets through its e-commerce site. Inventories are available, and the material has been in high demand, especially for custom knife makers.
“SB brings intimate knowledge of the knife community and a proven track record of managing unique boutique materials. They understand this community and this material better than anyone,” said Bono in a recent press release. “SM-100 is very complex to process, and makers are developing their own processing and heat treatments to optimize the material’s performance and aesthetics. Puris believes SB is in the best position to aggregate and leverage this knowledge for the betterment of the entire community.
“Just as important to Puris,” Bono added, “SB Specialty Metals has a long-standing reputation for professionalism and integrity. We couldn’t be more excited to welcome them on board as our exclusive distributor for this specialized market.”
A University Exploration in Titanium Extraction Could Drastically Reduce Costs
With a high strength-to-weight ratio and unparalleled chemical stability, titanium is critically important for applications in aerospace, transportation, and defense. However, the current process used to extract titanium from ore is extremely energy-intensive, making titanium expensive, thus limiting its widespread use.
The U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency - E (ARPA-E) awarded Case Western Reserve University $675,000 to continue its research on developing its low-cost, energy-efficient method to remove titanium from ore.
“Our project, if successful, will lower the cost of titanium by up to 60 percent," said Rohan Akolkar, associate professor of chemical engineering and the principal investigator on the project, in a press release.
Akolkar’s team, which also includes Uziel Landau, professor and chair of chemical engineering, and Mark De Guire, associate professor of materials science and engineering, will work toward demonstrating the feasibility of their idea.
The Case Western Reserve team proposes to use an electrolytic process, called electrowinning, to directly extract titanium from molten titanium salts. A specialized electrochemical reactor will be designed and built at Case Western Reserve to facilitate a stable electrowinning process to produce the metal.
“Much of the cost associated with extracting titanium via conventional non-electrolytic routes lies in processing the sacrificial reducing agent, which is typically magnesium. In our direct electrolytic process, magnesium is not required,” Akolkar said. “This reduces cost, reduces energy consumption and simplifies the overall process.”
The electrolytically extracted titanium is expected to contain fewer impurities and therefore have superior mechanical properties as extracted. The team’s process has the potential of considerably expanding the domestic titanium production industry, which is important to U.S. security. It can boost manufacturing and lower the reliance on titanium imports, which come mostly from Russia.
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