SMS Group and Outokumpu agree subscription contract for new stainless steel atomization plant

SMS group is partnering with high-grade stainless steel producer, Outokumpu, to supply an atomization plant for the production of stainless steel powder used in additive manufacturing.

This is the first facility that SMS group, which is made up of companies active in the global plant construction, steel and nonferrous metals industry, will supply under a subscription contract. Essentially, SMS group will remain the owner of the powder atomization plant while Outokumpu will pay SMS group pro rata of the quantity of stainless steel powder produced, as operator of the plant.

“Right from the beginning the whole project has been sailing under the flag of partnership,” said Tobias Brune, head of additive manufacturing and powder metallurgy at SMS Group. “With this performance-based contract model we, as leading partner in the world of metals, are breaking new ground jointly with our customer which will bring us both forward. The subscription contract provides for both companies to concentrate on their respective core competencies to be successful in the market.”

Outokumpu is going to install a metal-powder atomization plant from SMS group. Image via SMS group.
Outokumpu is going to install a metal-powder atomization plant from SMS group. Image via SMS group.

Atomized metal powder production in AM

In 2017, SMS group partnered with Additive Industries to develop a metal 3D printing system capable of industrial-scale, serial production of parts of high reproducible quality. Within this system, alloys are induction-melted under vacuum, with the resulting liquid metal then atomized with argon. A demo center was established at SMS group’s Mönchengladbach site.

Elsewhere, atomization technology manufacturer, 3D LAB, partnered with the U.K.’s largest jewelry maker Cooksongold to bring a compact powder atomization machine to the market at the end of 2019, which uses a patented ultrasonic plasma atomization process tuned for the processing of precious metals like silver, platinum and gold.

Prior to this, another form of ultrasonic atomization, developed in 2016 at Warsaw University of Technology (WUT), made its public debut through spinout company Amazemet and a prototype machine, capable of creating powdered 3D printer feedstocks from a variety of different source materials.

Meanwhile, metal powder producer PyroGenesis unveiled its NexGen Plasma Atomization System, capable of producing metal powder for additive manufacturing at a rate of over 25kg/h. The method consisted of an upgrade of the original Plasma Atomization Process (PAP) invented by PyroGenesis in 1995.

The ATO Noble ultrasonic plasma atomizer from Cooksongold and 3D LAB. Photo via 3D LAB
The ATO Noble ultrasonic plasma atomizer from Cooksongold and 3D LAB. Photo via 3D LAB

SMS group’s powder atomization plant

The new plant is scheduled to become operational in early 2022, and is estimated to produce up to 330 tonnes of stainless steel powder annually.

SMS group will supply the powder atomization plant, complete with induction melter, the atomizer, two cyclones, and filter elements, alongside grading equipment, spare parts, service throughout the duration of the contract, and digital solutions.

The plant will be designed for the complete process to take place in an inert atmosphere, enabling temperature measurements, sample taking, and material feeding to take place without causing interference in atmospheric variations.

During operation, the atomizing nozzle is arranged below the distributor containing molten metal, which runs through the nozzle and undergoes atomization in the atomization tower by inert gas. The resulting powder is then transported to the cyclone unit where it is separated from the inert gas and collected in containers. From there, the metal powder in its finished condition is screened and graded.

The atomization plant will be able to atomize powders of stainless steels, marraging steels, special steels, superalloys, nickel-based alloys, cobalt-chromium alloys, and copper-based alloys, among others. Both lumpy materials, such as metal scrap, and non-specified powder can be used as feedstock.

Outokumpu’s staff will be trained at SMS group’s powder atomization plant in Mönchengladbach while the plant is being installed.

Outokumpu and stainless steel

A global producer of high-grade stainless steel, Outokumpu is headquartered in Finland but also has production facilities in Germany, the United Kingdom, Sweden, the U.S.A., and Mexico. The firm supplies a wide range of stainless steel products to several sectors, including architecture, infrastructure, automotive, heavy industries, medical engineering, and domestic appliances.

“As the inventors of stainless steel, we are aiming to continuously advance innovation in general, and the development and distribution of this highly versatile and sustainable material,” said Philip Salfeld, Outokumpu’s manager of strategic investments. “In doing so, we are always looking out for innovative applications that will attract new customer segments to our products. Metal powder is one such innovative business field. And we are looking very much forward to developing it jointly with SMS group.”

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Featured image shows Outokumpu to install a metal-powder atomization plant from SMS group. Image via SMS group.