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Developers Claim Breakthrough for 3DP Aluminum Parts

March 11, 2021
Fully dense, sinterable aluminum 6061 parts with better than wrought strength will be available via binder jetting technology, according to Desktop Metals Inc. and its partner Uniformity Labs.

3DP system developer Desktop Metal Inc. is introducing a “breakthrough” aluminum 6061 powder for binder-jet additive manufacturing – “one of the most sought-after materials for use in automotive, aerospace and consumer electronics," according to Ric Fulop, Desktop Metals CEO and co-founder. The developer and its partner Uniformity Labs claim their binder-jet version of the alloy offers greater than 10% elongation plus improved yield strength and ultimate tensile strength compared to wrought aluminum 6061.

Adam Hopkins, Uniformity Labs founder and CEO said the new alloy “opens the door to a wide variety of thermal and structural applications across industries."

Binder-jet additive manufacturing is the process in which a printer-head device selectively deposits a liquid binder onto a layer of powdered materials (in this case, the powdered aluminum 6061) according to a pattern defined from a CAD file of the finished part. Each completed layer is bonded to a successive layer, according to the design, and the formed part is later sintered with a combination of heat and atmospheric pressure to densify the part structure.

Reportedly, Desktop Metal and Uniformity Labs, a developer of additive manufacturing materials and software, conducted a multi-year collaboration to develop a low-cost raw material that matches the workability of wrought 6061.

The developers said the new powder makes it possible to sinter unadulterated 6061 aluminum, meaning it is not necessary to coat powder particles prior to printing, nor to mix sintering aids into the powder, nor to use binders containing expensive nanoparticles or metals.

Also, the powder reportedly is compatible with water-based binders and has a higher minimum ignition energy (MIE) relative to other commercially available 6061 aluminum powders, making the binder-jetting safer.

Desktop Metal’s and Uniformity Labs’ collaboration will continue as they plan to qualify the powder and scale production for commercial release. Once fully qualified, Uniformity 6061 aluminum will be available for use with the Desktop Metal Production System additive manufacturing platform.

"The global aluminum castings market is more than $50 billion per year, and it is ripe for disruption with binder jetting AM solutions,” Fulop commented. “These are the best reported properties we are aware of for a sintered 6061 aluminum powder, and we are excited to make this material available exclusively to Desktop Metal customers as part of our ongoing partnership with Uniformity Labs."