Recent Metal and Steel Manufacturing Innovations Aim to Advance Processing
While steel manufacturing may seem like a mature, unchanging industry, recent advancements show that metallurgical technology is constantly advancing.
Desktop Metal Acquires ExOne
ExOne develops 3D printing systems and metallic feedstock for printing metal structures. Recently, they developed a new technique for printing aluminum alloys with very fine detail, partnering with Ford Motor Company, with eyes on printing engine blocks.
Rapid prototyping designs, printed by Desktop Metal. Image used courtesy of Desktop Metal
Desktop Metal has been in the additive manufacturing business since 2015. They have an extensive 3D printing library, encompassing many materials, all tested in-house. Their markets have historically been automation and rapid-prototyping. With the acquisition of ExOne, it will now include automotive and other transportation markets. In terms of materials, Desktop Metals already prints stainless steel and copper alloys, and will pick up some expertise in aluminum alloys when the acquisition of ExOne is complete.
In addition to this acquisition, there are other companies in the additive manufacturing market making strides to advance technology.
Volvo’s Sustainability Efforts
When one thinks of the steel industry, they may think: Pittsburgh, coal, heat, and, well, dirt. While this image has been changing over the last 60 years, Volvo aims to change the face of the industry entirely by producing cars made from zero-carbon emission steel. Volvo recently announced that they are pairing up with Swedish steelmaker SSAB to implement clean technologies for producing steel that will be used in all new Volvo automobiles by 2026. Volvo calls this the HYBRIT initiative.
The HYBRIT initiative pairs iron ore producer LKAB with a carbon-free energy producer, Vattenfall, both owned by the Swedish government. They will supply the raw materials and the power required for SSAB to produce the steel. The steel will then be used in new Volvos. This green initiative hopes to reduce carbon emissions in the supply chain, benefiting fossil fuels and electric vehicles.
SSAB’s technology has rolled the first 100% fossil-free steel, and it is being delivered to Volvo.
Fossil-free steel produced by SSAB. Image used courtesy of SSAB
One of the challenges in steel manufacturing is tailoring the oxygen content. Traditionally, coke (fuel) and coal have been used as reducing agents in steel manufacturing. When the coke is mixed with the steel, oxygen binds to the carbon, producing carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, transporting it out of the steel. SSAB instead uses green sources of hydrogen as its reducing agent, where the hydrogen bonds with the oxygen, forming water vapor.
Volvo and its partners on this project hope to pave the way for a more sustainable way to manufacture steel, specifically in the automotive market. While sustainable steel is a popular initiative in steel manufacturing, others are taking a new approach.
Antimicrobial Stainless Steel
According to a recent Modern Casting article, Advanced Medical Innovations (AMI) and Performance Compounds Inside (PCI) have partnered to develop antimicrobial stainless steel.
AMI is a health care and hospital company located in California. PCI specializes in developing and researching patented technologies of antimicrobial metals. This partnership came together with the overall goal to manufacture “clean metal” that can be used in more sanitary environments, such as medical.
Many copper alloys are already antimicrobial, but their adoption has had some limitations. Copper is heavier, softer, and generally more expensive than stainless steel. This may make it a poor choice for surgical tools, or in any place where it can be easily stolen. Also, copper alloys tarnish; while the tarnishing does not affect its antimicrobial properties, the copper is mistaken for “dirty.”
Stainless steel can appear clean, but has not been fully antimicrobial until recently. This new alloy could be used in the medical industry for surgical tools to limit the spread of infections. It could also replace doorknobs, handrails, and other high-touch surfaces linked to the spread of infections.
The metal and steel industry is continuing to grow and advance. Aluminum is in high demand, countries continue to strive for net-zero, and antimicrobial alloys could help prevent the spread of disease in a pandemic-ridden era. This industry and its innovations impact automotive, aerospace, marine, and other industrial and additive manufacturing applications.