Liberty Powder Metals begins construction of $12 million 3D printing atomizer facility

Liberty House Group, a London-based industrial metals company, has begun construction of a powder metals development facility in Teesside, UK. 

The new facility will be built on the research and innovation campus at the Materials Processing Institute (MPI), a research centre for advanced materials. It is intended to expand Liberty’s reach into the 3D printing materials market, as well as specialist metals in general. 

An initial £10m ($12.2m) is being invested to help Liberty House Group subsidiary Liberty Powder Metals set up business at the new building, including the installation of a vacuum induction inert gas atomizer at its core. 

The facility’s construction is being aided by Liberty Powder Metals partners Atomising Systems and K-Home International. Representatives of all three firms were joined by Mayor of the Tees Valley, Ben Houchen, in celebration of the milestone at the MPI campus. Commercial and Business Development Manager for Liberty Powder Metals, Tom Sellers, commented:

“We are excited about the progress to date and I am looking forward to bringing our products to market and developing our customer base along with the strength of the Liberty brand.”

Liberty Powder Metals start of facility construction. Photo via Liberty.
Liberty Powder Metals start of facility construction. Photo via Liberty.

The GFG Alliance and the Gupta family’s steel empire 

Founded in 1992 by industrialist Sanjeev Gupta, Liberty House Group’s operations include ferrous and non-ferrous metal trading, metals recycling, steel and aluminium production, and engineering products and services. It is part of the GFG Alliance, an international group of businesses owned by the Gupta family that are collectively involved in mining, industry and trading. 

Alongside its headquarters in Mayfair, London, Liberty also has strategic global hubs located in Paris, Dubai, Singapore, Hong Kong, Sydney and New York. The group serves customers around the world in the metals and steel manufacturing industries, as well as in automotive, construction, marine, power generation, aerospace, motorsport, and more. Its operations are divided across multiple subsidiaries and divisions, for example, Liberty Commodities, Liberty Recycling, and Liberty Steel, which the Liberty Powder Metals arm falls underneath. 

With the construction of the facility at the MPI, Liberty aims to enhance its position in the global powder metals market, said to be worth £8bn ($9.8bn) a year, by producing high quality stainless steel and superalloy powders. 

The facility is part of a powder alloy development scheme from Liberty Powder Metals that began in October 2018, when the company announced it had received a £4.6m ($5.6m) investment from the Tees Valley Combined Authority (TVCA) to help fund the project. Mayor Houchen, leader of the TCVA, explains that “The start of construction of Liberty Powder Metals new Teesside facility is a significant milestone in a project that will put our region at the forefront of a revolutionary new industry. We invested £4.6 million in this ground-breaking project because we could see just how important the high-grade metal powders Liberty will produce will be.” 

“By investing in new technologies, we’re staying ahead of the curve and creating the jobs for future industries.”

Inside the Liberty Steel site in Stocksbridge, Sheffield. Photo via Liberty House.
Inside the Liberty Steel site in Stocksbridge, Sheffield. Photo via Liberty House.

Developing metal powder for AM using atomizing technology

The installation of the atomizer at the facility is intended to help Liberty overcome traditional barriers to 3D printing, by allowing the company to develop a “new generation of powdered steels.” An atomizer, like 3D LabsATO One, is a device that processes and produces spherical metal powders using powder bed fusion additive manufacturing technologies, as well as Selective Laser Melting (SLM) and Electron Beam Melting (EBM). 

Using the atomizer, Liberty aims to manufacture 3D printing steel powder materials for rapidly-changing and advanced sectors such as aerospace, automotive, energy and specialist industrial equipment. Liberty has also made plans to install a range of sieving, blending, packaging and analytical equipment within the facility as well. 

Sheffield-based Atomising Systems is responsible for developing and installing the vacuum induction inert gas atomizer at the facility, alongside its partner Consarc Engineering, a Vacuum Melting technology supplier. Meanwhile K-Home International, an engineering services firm, is managing the installation of the facility at the MPI. The location of the facility at the MPI campus will offer various advantages to Liberty Metal Powders, including access to the institute’s available research facilities and expertise. The company will begin commissioning the powders from December 2019, with the aim of entering commercial production from March 2020.

General Manager for Liberty Powder Metals, Dr Simon Pike, conludes: “We are grateful to our partners for the work they have done to reach this stage. Finance from Tees Valley Combined Authority has been critical in making the project a reality and I look forward to continuing all our partnerships to make Teesside a global-leading centre of expertise for powder metal production.”

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Featured image shows workers and visitors at the Liberty Steel facility. Photo via Liberty.