6K Additive Tour Details Expansion to Double Powder-Manufacturing Capacity

November 1, 2022


6K-Expansion-Reactor6K Additive unveiled plans to double its powder-manufacturing capacity in Burgettstown, PA, including a facility-size increase of 35,000 sq. ft. and the adding of as many as 35 employees. A division of 6K, 6K Additive offers what it describes as sustainable production of engineered materials for additive manufacturing (AM) and lithium-ion batteries via its UniMelt plasma technology.

In particular, the expansion plan includes 20,000 sq. ft. of additional powder-production capacity via four new UniMelt microwave plasma systems—two set for install in 2Q 2023 and two more later in the year—as well as the addition of a 15,000-sq.-ft. material-feedstock-preparation building. Over the last 12 months, company officials reported to 3D Metal Printing during a site tour at the end of October, 6K Additive has seen rapid growth in the demand for its nickel, titanium and refractory powders. This powder-capacity increase—to 600 metric tons upon expansion completion—is expected to help meet customers’ needs for the coming 12-36 months.

Adding the feedstock preparation facility to the Burgettstown 45-acre campus provides 6K Additive with vertical integration of feedstock sizing for nickel and titanium in the same location, noted Frank Roberts, company president, and other 6K Additive management during the tour. This will help to streamline operations while providing faster delivery and, ultimately, full control and quality of the powder produced via the UniMelt technology’s capability for “tunable powder production,” they explained. 

The Burgettstown plant currently produces powders that include nickel 718 and 625, titanium-64, stainless steel and copper, as well as capabilities to produce aluminum alloys. 6K Additive also runs two UniMelt production systems at the company’s parent headquarters in North Andover, MA, producing tungsten, rhenium and niobium-based alloys for hypersonic, defense and rocket applications. 6K Additive currently boasts 170 employees across its Pennsylvania and Massachusetts locations. 

“Global unrest has shed a major spotlight on our nation’s supply-chain vulnerability for critical materials,” offered Roberts. “This, in combination with our consistent product quality, sustainability benefits and the fact that we are a domestic supplier have contributed to increased commercial activity with key strategic customers. This expansion will help us meet customer demands in the coming years and ensure efficiencies in current and future operations.”

Full-Automation Push

6K-reactor-controlTo further invigorate the UniMelt and alloy-puck preparation capabilities at Burgettstown, 6K Additive also has embarked on a three-phase production automation program. The first phase, essentially complete, involves general automation facilities and actual UniMelt reactor and press production—the reactors and puck-pressing operations are fully remote-operated, with automated safety features. Phase two includes automation of material feeding, currently underway as part of the expansion and expected to be completed by the end of 2023. Phase three, slated for completion in late 2024, will provide for full lights-out operation. 

And, during the tour, Eric Martin, 6K Additive chief operating officer provided a glimpse of the microwave generators that each serve a UniMelt reactor. An interesting fact: The generators employ the same technology used to cook bacon in premade bacon products and operate similarly to consumer microwave ovens, though 75 times more powerful.

“The ability to meet the demands of our customers in both quality and delivery is paramount for our organization,” said Martin during the facility walkthrough. “The addition of a feedstock-preparation facility and the added UniMelt production capacity, along with full automation, will help to create a consistent operational flow to meet this demand.”

Sustainable Technology

6K Additive’s capabilities position it as a key sustainability player in repurposing scarce materials using less energy and with a smaller carbon footprint, explained Bruce Bradshaw, 6K chief marketing officer, pointing out the company’s mission to provide a solution for global decarbonization in producing performance materials that are critical to production in markets such as aerospace, defense, medical and industrial applications. 

The company recently released results from a lifecycle assessment conducted by Foresight Management that compares the environmental impact of 6K’s UniMelt technology to current atomization technologies in the production of metal powders. The results showed upward of a 91-percent reduction in energy use and a 91.5-percent reduction in carbon emissions when using UniMelt. 

Guest Speakers Detail AM Innovation

Besides showcasing its expansion, 6K Additive included guest speakers in its tour: Mark Straszheim, regional director and advanced materials lead, Cumberland Additive; and Dr. Joseph Sims, director of advanced manufacturing for Quadrus Corp.

Cumberland Additive—originating as an Arconic spinoff from Alcoa—moved into Neighborhood 91, an AM production campus at nearby Pittsburgh International Airport, earlier in 2022 with the hope of growing its core competencies in metal AM and CNC machining while serving a growing aerospace, defense and oil-and-gas customer base. In 17,000 sq. ft. at Neighborhood 91, Straszheim reported, Cumberland Additive houses an SLM Solutions 500 HL AM machine and a Hass five-axis CNC mill, with more equipment on the way. The Pittsburgh location supports the company’s home operations in Pflugerville, TX, in providing one-off to serial production along with engineering and qualification for all phases of product development and lifecycle. With proximity to Neighborhood 91 AM-industry product providers and suppliers as well as 6K Additive, Straszheim sees opportunities for synergy, and overall predicts a major role for AM-component providers in serving larger OEMs.

“Ultimately, OEM manufacturing will move into the supply chain,” he said during his presentation. “So we must be in it for the long haul.”

Quadrus Corp. is based in Huntsville, AL, close to a customer, NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center, that “is big in metal AM,” Sims offered during his talk. The company boasts three GE Additive Concept Laser M2 and one Mlab machine along with a wire-EDM machine and dozens of software-development experts. Quadrus has a major focus on developing AM with refractory metals, which holds great promise in hypersonic-flight applications, according to Sims. He sees great possibilities in working with 6K Additive on these types of materials as refractory metals, with their high performance in high-heat applications, are poised for greater use.

“It all starts with the powder,” Sims explained, addressing a key factor in refractory metal-AM performance.

Industry-Related Terms: Additive manufacturing
View Glossary of 3D Metal Printing Terms

 

See also: 6K Additive

Technologies: Metal Powders

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