The promise of additive manufacturing (AM) as a disruptive technology has been discussed in engineering circles for decades and promoted in the mainstream media for years. The benefits of AM – design freedom, weight savings, assembly simplification, economic batch size reduction – have all been achieved to some degree by those adopting the technology. However, despite ongoing advances, the metal AM industry continues to suffer from process reliability and productivity problems. For most industrial applications it still has not fully matured from a tooling and prototyping technology to large-scale production of end-use parts. This is particularly true in aerospace where part consistency is critical, and in automotive where speed and cost dominate.
The morphology and consistency of metal powder feedstock has a profound impact on the quality, integrity and reliability of parts produced using additive manufacturing. Analysis and tests conducted using AlSi7Mg powder provided by various suppliers in both powder-bed and direct energy device printers have identified the influence and importance of powder characteristics such as particle size, size distribution, sphericity, oxide layer thickness, microstructure, fines, agglomerates and surface condition on the resultant additively manufactured part.