Recycling of critical metals for AM defence projects

The UniMelt® plasma production system converts high-value metal scrap from military hardware into high-performance metal powders. Photo courtesy of US Department of Defense, Photographer Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Janae Chambers
The UniMelt® plasma production system converts high-value metal scrap from military hardware into high-performance metal powders. Photo courtesy of US Department of Defense, Photographer Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class Janae Chambers

A unique plasma production system converts high-value metal scrap into high-performance metal powders for additive manufacturing, metal injection molding, and other powder metallurgy production techniques.

Text by 6K

6K Additive, a division of 6K Inc. and a leading company in the sustainable production of materials for additive manufacturing has been awarded a 5-year Blanket Purchase Agreement (BPA) from Army Contracting Command in support of US Army Development Command (DEVCOM) for strategic high-performance metal powders. The BPA supports increased weapons research and development initiatives at DEVCOM and helps meet additional demand for the manufacturing of prototypes and small-quantity manufacturing for Low-Rate Initial Production (LRIP). 6K Additive’s metal powders will be produced utilising the company’s proprietary UniMelt® microwave plasma platform, which underpins 6K’s capability to source, process, and reclaim scrap components, shop scrap, and used powders for conversion into aerospace-grade metal powders.
Lieutenant Colonel Peter J. Stambersky, USA Retired and Director of Federal Affairs at 6K, said, “This agreement provides the US Army DEVCOM with access to critical materials for additive manufacturing derived from feedstock right here in the US.”

Converting high-value scrap

Non-eroding throat insert for a solid rocket nozzle printed at Quadrus Corporation with 6K Additive tungsten rhenium metal powder. Photo ©6K
Non-eroding throat insert for a solid rocket nozzle printed at Quadrus Corporation with 6K Additive tungsten rhenium metal powder. Photo ©6K

6K’s UniMelt® plasma production system is capable of converting high-value metal scrap of numerous forms into high-performance metal powders for additive manufacturing, metal injection molding, and other powder metallurgy production techniques. By doing so, they provide access to a vast domestic supply of strategically important metals and alloys such as nickel and titanium from machine shops and boneyards, as well as refractory powders such as C103, tungsten, and others that are critical to the mission of the modern warfighter. The patented 6K Additive process cleans, prepares, and spheroidizes scrap alloys into high-quality powders with performance superior to atomisation technologies. This process will provide the US military with a secure, traceable domestic supply of critical materials while eliminating unexpected performance anomalies due to questionable sourcing from foreign supply. The Department of Defense (DoD) has identified the following benefits:

Reducing risk of dependence on foreign supply: As there is constrained domestic availability of strategic metals such as superalloys, the ability to utilise materials from the nation’s boneyards and machine shops, such as end-of-life components, shop scrap, or used powders and convert them into high-quality materials, provides the US military with a secure domestic supply of critical metals.

Closed-loop enhanced security: Of crucial concern is the quality and consistency of foreign-sourced materials. Recycling previously qualified DoD parts, shop scrap, and used powders creates a closed loop for material, with the quality being known and traceable. Unexpected performance anomalies due to questionable sourcing can be prevented.

Advanced systems faster to the field: High-quality recycled materials will help the DoD develop and adopt advanced additive manufacturing, metal injection molding, and powder forging processes more quickly, allowing them to create parts with novel functionality, reduce engineering cycles and accelerate “make-to-fly” cycles.

Managing costs while maximising quality: Using already certified scrap as raw material dramatically reduces the material cost of goods for manufactured parts and ensures they meet the desired specifications.

About this Tech Article

This tech article appeared in Stainless Steel World, January/February 2024 magazine. To read many more articles like these on an (almost) monthly basis, subscribe to our magazine (available in print and digital format) – SUBSCRIPTIONS TO OUR DIGITAL VERSION ARE NOW FREE.

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