Iowa Powder Atomization Technologies, Inc.
Iowa Powder Atomization Technologies, Inc. (IPAT) aims to become a leading domestic titanium powder producer allowing for a paradigm shift in the cost of titanium powders for metal injection molding (MIM) feedstock. Decreasing this cost will create vast opportunities for aerospace, military, biomedical, and consumer applications. Titanium and its fabrication by MIM can become one of the United States’ most advanced processing technologies and help jump-start many corresponding manufacturing sectors, spurring job creation and economic growth throughout the United States.
Titanium is viewed as one of the most strategic metals of our future. Its high-strength, lightweight, and good corrosion resistance makes it superior in many demanding applications, such as aerospace components. Dr. Randall German reported in 2009 that saving 2.2 pounds of weight on an aircraft is valued at $500 dollars in annual fuel savings, so the implementation of titanium into many of its components could contribute to significant fuel savings over time. Titanium is also the material of choice due to its bio-inertness for biomedical implants allowing them to be useful for a much longer period of time than the current standard, stainless steel, thus preventing multiple invasive replacement surgeries.
However, titanium’s extreme reactivity with casting mold materials and machining cutting tools makes fabrication of components with a complex final-shape rather expensive and inefficient. Generally, the “buy-to-fly” ratio for titanium aerospace parts is at least 10:1, with 90 percent of the original weight being converted to machining chips and scrap. An attractive solution to these inefficient fabrication methods is to use a powder metallurgy processing route, which has many advantages over other manufacturing methods and is much more energy and material efficient. One of the greenest manufacturing technologies within powder metallurgy is metal injection molding (MIM).
MIM is a series of steps of making large numbers of relatively small, but geometrically complex parts very efficiently. Metal powders are mixed with a low melting plastic and injected into reusable molds, the plastic is then removed and the remaining metallic parts are exposed to high temperatures to densify the parts. Typically the number of parts made by MIM can be from the thousands to millions per year. Since this is a near-net-shape process, very little scrap is generated (nearly a 1:1 “buy-to-fly” ratio). Reducing waste and energy costs have allowed the global MIM market to grow approximately 14 percent annually since 2002. Significant research has been conducted on titanium MIM (Ti-MIM) within the last five years and the technology for production of high quality Ti-MIM products exists in industry. The main hurdle to Ti-MIM is quality MIM powder at an affordable price.
As companies have seen the need for Ti-MIM powder, many technologies have been utilized to produce titanium powder. However, to date all powders are either too expensive or the properties of the powder are not suitable to Ti-MIM. One of the main ways powders of stainless steel are produced for MIM is by close-coupled gas atomization (CCGA). IPAT will utilize the economically viable method of CCGA with advanced processing technologies, unlocking CCGA’s potential for titanium powder production. This processing route allows for a tenfold increase in the yields of fine powder suitable for Ti-MIM compared to other atomization routes. Costs are not only reduced by increasing yields of suitable powder, but CCGA also utilizes the most cost-effective starting material.