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Additive Manufacturing with Tungsten Powder

Additive manufacturing with tungsten powder is in the early stages but has been gaining traction. Additive manufacturing describes the process of adding only the materials necessary to produce a part. Subtractive manufacturing on the other hand refers to taking materials away from a larger piece through processes such as machining or grinding. 3D printing of tungsten powder is an additive manufacturing process.

Powder Bed Fusion and Binder Jetting are two additive manufacturing technologies in use with tungsten powders. These methods have proven effective as rapid prototyping tools to make models of parts before scaling them to full production. 3D printing allows a single model of complex designs to be made to help identify potential problems quickly. As a result, corrections to the actual geometry of a part can be made before continuing the design or manufacturing processes. This makes additive manufacturing of immense benefit to designers and engineers in particular.

Additive Manufacturing Challenges

While there are many advantages to additive manufacturing with tungsten, there are obstacles to scaling the technology for mass production. In most cases it takes longer and is more expensive to make parts. At this time an additional challenge has been achieving the same material properties in the finished tungsten parts. As the additive manufacturing industry develops, efficiencies will reduce manufacturing costs. When this happens opportunities will arise to do larger production runs of parts as the quality improves. Right now there is ongoing research to solve these problems to make additive manufacturing with tungsten powder more practical on a large scale.

Binder Jetting vs Powder Bed Fusion

The binder jetting process for 3D printing uses binders to adhere thin layers of tungsten powder or tungsten alloy powders together. It does not require heat, which makes it faster and less expensive than Powder Bed Fusion. The result is a green part that requires sintering to heat it up and bond the tungsten powder together. The parts will shrink during sintering as the binders melt, so it does not have the same level of accuracy as Powder Bed Fusion.

The Powder Bed Fusion method of 3D printing involves melting the tungsten powders with a laser or electron beam. This makes the necessary equipment more expensive. Each layer also takes longer to print, so it is slower than Binder Jetting. On the plus side it allows for more complex geometries and more accurate parts right off the printer.

In Summary

In summary, additive manufacturing with tungsten powder will continue to grow as costs come down and research continues to improve the properties of finished products. Binder Jetting and Powder Bed Fusion each have pros and cons. Understanding the benefits and limitations of each technology will help you know which to use for your application. Metal AM provides some additional general information about the industry. You can also contact Buffalo Tungsten to see which our our tungsten powders or tungsten alloy powders will work the best for your additive manufacturing applications.

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Tungsten Furnaces

When I tell people that we make tungsten powder in furnaces, they often think of giant vats pouring molten steel. This is not the type of furnace that we use. At Buffalo Tungsten we use pusher furnaces.

A pusher furnace can accurately control the temperature and gas atmosphere inside it. A web page from Harper International describes their design features for pusher furnaces. We have a Harper furnace operating in our plant. Harper's original headquarters is less than a mile from our factory and is now just minutes away.

Renewable Energy and Hydrogen Production

Advanced control systems allow us to adjust the tungsten furnace conditions such as temperature to produce the sizes of powder that are needed.

Our furnaces are all electric. As a result we can have accurate and consistent heating in all temperature zones. The electricity that we utilize is replacement power from the New York Power Authority. Furthermore it is renewable hydropower from the Niagara Power Project.

The atmosphere in our tungsten furnaces is hydrogen gas. We generate hydrogen through electrolysis. Water molecules split into hydrogen and oxygen gases using electricity. We only use the hydrogen gas and as a result release much of the oxygen into the atmosphere.

Tungsten Furnace Operation

To make tungsten powder first metal trays loaded with tungsten oxide enter the furnaces. Then they are pushed through the different temperature zones over the course of many hours. Finally on the disharge end the material comes out as pure tungsten powder. The hydrogen gas in the furnace atmosphere reacts with the oxygen from the tungsten oxide to leave the pure tungsten. Consequently the only byproduct of the process is water, which can be reused.

We often refer to our furnaces by how many tubes they have. Each individual tungsten furnace that we operate has between 2 and 15 tubes. Our smaller furnaces with fewer tubes are used to make specialized powders.

Our furnaces run 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It can take days to heat the furnace to temperature. In like manner they can take days to cool down. As a result of the thermal shock from heating and cooling the elements can fail. For this reason they run continuously until we need to do maintenance on them.

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Buffalo Tungsten is Hiring

Buffalo Tungsten is hiring operators for our tungsten metal powder operations. No experience is necessary to apply. There are some general and task specific requirements below to help applicants better understand the nature of the job.

Safety is a top priority. It is important for each employee to be alert and conscious of safety at all times. Personal protective equipment minimizes the risks, but does not replace proper care and caution. Safety glasses and shoes are necessary everywhere in the factory. Other items such as fitted respirators are essential for certain operations.

It is important that employees are here on time for every shift. Our furnaces operate 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. When operating at such high temperatures we can't turn them off for the weekend and start them up again on Monday morning.

Task List

The first task new hires are trained on is operating pusher furnaces. Operators load furnaces with intermediate tungsten materials such as blue or yellow tungsten oxide. Pure tungsten metal powders exit the furnace at the discharge end.

Operators follow written instructions and do checks to make sure that furnace conditions are set properly. Normal quality assurance includes checking temperatures, flows, and other important variables. Operators must work neatly around our tungsten metal powders to assure accuracy and prevent spilling. Careful record keeping is a must.

Several people on each shift must have a license to use a forklift. Tungsten powder goes to different parts of the factory to equipment that customizes the powder to meet customer specifications. Palletized inventory and drum attachments for forklifts make material handling safe and efficient.

When powders meet spec we blend them to create a single homogenous lot. Carefully following written instructions is again important to assure the quality of the finished product. The tungsten metal powder is carefully weighed into containers lined with polyethylene bags to maintain purity. Labels indicate the powder type, lot numbers and weights of each container. Pails can weigh up to 50 pounds, so operators must be able to lift and place pails that heavy onto pallets for shipping.

If you or someone you know in the Buffalo area could handle these tasks and job requirements, contact us today!

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Tungsten Concentrates

Tungsten concentrates derive from the mining of tungsten ore. Many locations throughout the world have tungsten ore reserves. There are mines on every continent but Antarctica.

Tungsten ore comes in several forms. See our previous post to learn about the main types. In underground mines, explosives dislodge material from the walls or floor of the mine in small areas. Open pit mines often use larger blasts before scooping up the ore. Underground mines usually have 1% or more tungsten oxide content. Open pit mines can have lower grades.

Producing Tungsten Concentrates

Cone crushers and ball mills reduce the size of the ore to under 2mm in size. Water carries the ore over shaker tables to concentrate it. It works like panning for gold in a river. The ore particles with lower density flow off as tailings while the higher density tungsten concentrate remains.

In small artisinal mines they do not have this equipment. The miners extract ore directly from rich veins. The weight of a fixed volume of the ore finds the density and value of the material. This material often needs more crushing. It needs to be smaller to have enough surface area for chemical processing.

Chemical Analysis

A lab will find the amount of tungsten oxide in the tungsten concentrates. First grade material will have at least 65% tungsten oxide. Some impurities can be difficult to remove or are costly to dispose of. High levels of things like arsenic or uranium are not desireable. A full assay will help determine the value of the ore.

Purchasing Specifications

Buffalo Tungsten purchases tungsten concentrates regularly. We have recently updated our purchasing specifications. This shows the grade of material that we are looking to buy. We process the material at Niagara Refining. It is in our factory, so it gives us a secure source of material.

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Tungsten Scrap Recycling

Buffalo Tungsten purchases several types of pure tungsten scrap for recycling. We feel that it is a win-win-win proposition.

It is a way for those who produce tungsten scrap to receive value for materials that might otherwise go to waste. Reclaiming these valuable materials is a benefit to our company as a source of raw material. Recycling also reduces impact on our environment. It lowers the amount of tungsten ore the needs to be mined every year to meet the global demand for tungsten products.

Types of Tungsten Scrap

Buffalo Tungsten does not recycle tungsten carbide (WC) products. However, many other companies are able to provide this service for tungsten carbide materials. As a result, we focus on scrap from parts made with pure tungsten powder or tungsten alloys.

One of the most common forms of material that Buffalo Tungsten recycles are machining or turning chips of tungsten alloys. The chips come from the machining of heavy metal parts.

Tungsten powder scrap and floor sweepings are also materials we can use. If you have spills or waste from your process, we can purchase these powders.

In addition, we take some types of scrap tungsten powder that has been compounded with plastic or rubber. Certain types of tungsten based slurries will work in our recycling processes as well.

Evaluation

The nature of each stream of scrap materials is different. We need to analyze your specific scrap products to determine if they are a fit for our recycling processes. If you send an assay or a small sample we can determine if we are able to purchase your waste materials.

Contact us to see how we can help you get value for your pure tungsten powder scrap. Send us photos of your waste from tungsten alloy parts to see if we can process it. We would be happy to assist you in seeing that you are able to recycle as much material as possible.

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Merry Christmas

We would like to wish a very Merry Christmas to all who have been a part of our success during this difficult year. Tungsten metal powder is used in some of the products that may be under your Christmas trees. It is possible that the electronics such as cell phones, computers and televisions have some tungsten in them. You might not be able to see it from the outside, but it is there, out of the spotlight, helping your devices to function.

The Christmas Truce during World War I is a story that reminds us that we can set aside our differences and come together in peace.

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Tungsten Matrix Powder for Diamond Bits

Tungsten and tungsten carbide powder are important in producing diamond bits and tools. Fragments of diamond are set in a matrix of various types of tungsten powder and other materials.

Diamond is one of the few materials harder than tungsten carbide. This makes it great for drilling and cutting hard materials, but even diamond bits get dull and wear out. Diamond is expensive, so it's cutting capability must be optimized.

The goal for tool manufacturers is to have the bit wear evenly so that the diamonds fall out right when the get dull and new, sharp diamonds will be ready to cut somewhere else in the bit. If the diamond falls out too soon it is costly. If it remains in too long, the diamond bits will not cut efficiently.

That is why the right mix of tungsten, tungsten carbide and other materials in the matrix holding the diamonds is so important. They need to wear at the same rate that the diamond dulls to provide the best value.

Example of Diamond Bits

There are several types of bits that use diamond as the cutting surface. One common type takes core samples. A diamond core bit is hollow in the middle to remove a core of rock or concrete in the shape of a cylinder.

Engineers might use core samples to evaluate the strength of the foundation of a building. Environmental studies might use diamond bits to look for evidence of past spills or leaks. Geologists use them to determine what types of rock is in the ground for mining or oil and gas exploration.

Buffalo Tungsten produces engineered tungsten matrix powders that work well in diamond bits. We understand that the properties of our powders are important to the finished diamond bits being produced. Our tight quality control assures that our customers get tungsten powder materials that will work well in matrix applications.

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Happy Thanksgiving

We wish a happy and healthy Thanksgiving holiday to our employees, customers and suppliers in the United States. On the fourth Thursday in November we take time out to offer thanks for the blessings in our lives. This has been a difficult year for many, but we have a lot to be grateful for.

To our customers and suppliers in other countries, we express our gratitude to you as well. You may not be joining in our celebrations, but you are a big part of our reason to celebrate!

Thankful for our Employees

We are thankful for our employees who operate and maitain our equipment 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Our plant runs 365 days a year. The furnaces do not cool down on holidays, so we will have people here on Thanksgiving. Instead of eating turkey at home with their families they will be at our factory producing tungsten powder. It is important to have reliable people on our team. They make sure that the materials we ship meet the standards of our customers. If it is 2 p.m. or 2 a.m., the job needs to be done correctly. They do a wonderful job and are greatly appreciated!

Thanks to our Customers

At Buffalo Tungsten we also express thanks to our customers. We know that you have a choice in tungsten suppliers, and we are grateful for your orders! This year has been difficult one for many industries. We are grateful that our customers have been able to continue manufacturing their products during a global pandemic. We know that your success is our success, and we would not be in business without you. As we put 2020 behind us, we look forward to serving your needs even better in the new year. We have several projects underway that will improve the quality of our tungsten powder products.

Grateful for our Suppliers

Finally, we offer thanks to our suppliers. From tungsten raw materials to parts for our equipment, we rely on you to keep us going. Without tungsten concentrates and intermediate tungsten products we would have nothing to run through our furnaces. Without things like industrial gases, maintenance parts, and packaging materials we would not be able to continue. Your high quality products being delivered on time allow us to provide what our customers need when they need it.

It takes many people to produce tungsten powder for the large variety of products produced by our customers. Each of our employees, customers and suppliers play a critical role in the process. At this time of Thanksgiving, we wish to take a moment to thank you for the part you play in the Buffalo Tungsten story.

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High Density Tungsten Powder

When we have a new driver from UPS on our route, the weight of a small pail of high density tungsten powder often surprises them. You see their arm drop as they pull it off the table for the first time. They prepare themselves for the extra effort and are ready for the second pail.

Tungsten has a high density. Many products are made with tungsten because of this property. If tungsten already has a high density, why does Buffalo Tungsten manufacture a special line of high density tungsten powder?

Our standard fine and coarse tungsten powders have apparent densities from 20-120 g/in3. This is fine for most products. However, extra process steps can push the density over 130 g/in3. As a result, the powder can reach a density as high as 165 g/in3.

Uses for High Density Powder

There are several properties that make tungsten a critical element. For instance, the high mechanical strength of tungsten is important in many products. In addition, the high melting point makes it attractive for other uses.

The products that rely on the density of tungsten often desire the highest density possible. For example, high density tungsten powder is great for radiation shielding. It can also focus the mass and increase weight in some sporting goods and other products.

Improving Density

Although all tungsten powder has a high density, Buffalo Tungsten uses production methods to improve it. We produce our high density tungsten powder to meet the market demand for this important specification. We will continue to test new ways to push the limits to further improve the density of our powder.

As we improve the density in our powders, new markets will emerge. With higher densities there will be new products in additive manufacturing, for instance. As high density tungsten powder goes into these and other products, the tungsten market continue to grow.

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5N Tungsten Powder

Buffalo Tungsten produces ultra high purity tungsten powder. Our typical powders have a purity of 99.95%. The ultra high purity powders we manufacture are 99.999%, or five nines pure. 5N tungsten powder is another way to refer to this level of purity.

It requires high garde raw material to produce 5N tungsten powder. We source high quality tungsten ores and concentrates as the basis for our ultra high purity materials. We test incoming concentrates to assure that they meet our stringent quality standards. Our supply from ore bodies that are not of a sufficient grade for our five nines tungsten powder go into other products.

Manufacturing Ultra High Purity Tungsten Powder

It takes extra processing of the concentrates to achieve the high level of purity for the APT and tungsten oxide necessary for 5N tungsten powder. The process equipment that we use contains specialized materials to prevent contamination. When compared with typical APT or oxide production there are several additional steps in the process to remove impurities. This extra work is important because without a high quality intermediate material it would be impossible to achieve consistent five nine results in our finished product.

The typical reduction process of the tungsten powder is not good enough to make ultra pure tunsgten powder. Special equipment assures that the material does not pick up impurities in the reduction process. The conditions of the atmosphere and other factors must be under careful control to make material that is 99.999% pure. Storage containers for the powders also protect the material from contamination.

Improved Quality and Increased Capacity

Buffalo Tungsten has added new equipment this year to improve the quality of our 5N tungsten powder. This new equipment allows us to increase our production capacity of five nines powder as well. If you need ultra high purity powders for sputtering targets, electrodes or other applications, contact Buffalo Tungsten to see how we can help to meet your needs.

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