Liberty Powder Metals, part of GFG Alliance’s Liberty Steel Group, has started commercial production at its new high-tech powder metal facility in Teesside, UK, targeting the demand for Additive Manufacturing materials.
With the new facility, Liberty Powder Metals will produce a range of stainless steel and nickel superalloy powders aimed at the market for precision components within the automotive, aerospace, and engineering sectors. The company states that its powder production process cuts carbon emissions by 85% compared with the traditional steel manufacturing route, and is part of its CN30 strategy to become carbon neutral by 2030.
In the powder production process, spherical powder particles are processed to the highest specifications in a vacuum induction argon gas atomiser, the only one of its kind in the UK, with a unique anti-satellite facility to increase productivity. Atomising Systems Ltd and Consarc Engineering worked closely with Liberty Powder Metals on equipment design for the facility.
The facility launch is the culmination of a two-year collaboration with the Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen and the Combined Authority, which provided £4.6 million of funding, and the Materials Processing Institute, which housed the atomiser within its own research facilities. Installation and commissioning have successfully overcome significant challenges caused by the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic in 2020, which has restricted the number of contractors able to work on-site and impacted on the delivery of equipment.
Commissioning of the atomiser includes a series of ‘acceptance melts’, which Liberty Powder Metals must perform before the plant is handed over for full operation. The atomiser enables the company to melt a range of defined chemistries and pour the liquid stream through an aperture, using inert gas to break it into fine droplets which then solidify into a powder which is secured and confined to avoid contamination from outside sources.
Powders then undergo further processing, including optimisation and characterisation, before final testing and dispatch to customers. The same post-atomisation processing activities are deployed for all metal powders in the company’s portfolio, which includes aluminium, titanium and cobalt alloys.
Simon Pike, General Manager of Liberty Powder Metals, stated, “This has been a great achievement amid unprecedented challenges from the COVID pandemic. The resolve and resilience of our team and our contractors to overcome supply chain constraints has been invaluable.”