Quality Assurance in Metal Powder Transportation

11 Jan, 2017

It’s exciting to be at the leading edge of a sector where the knowledge base is expanding constantly.  At LPW we invest strongly in research and development to remain at the forefront of that expansion, and we work hard to continuously improve the quality of the service and the products we offer our customers.

One area where we’re achieving just that is with our innovative hoppers, an integral component of LPW’s PowderLife. PowderLife is a total quality and powder handling system for powder throughout its life cycle. Minimising risk of contamination and imposing strict controls, adding confidence, reliability and traceability in metal powder production and repeated AM builds.

We recognise that bulk powder transport and storage is essential as serial AM production becomes a commercial reality, so we’ve applied our knowledge and experience to provide all the information needed to ensure validation and ongoing confidence in powder specification, leading to a more stable production process.

The hopper concept is to monitor the conditions that the feedstock has been subjected to during transport and storage, enabling effective quality assurance from powder source to point of use.  The units monitor the status of powder being used on the AM machine and provide data throughout the powder life cycle, ensuring the user is aware of quality every step of the way.

We’ve just dispatched another of our pioneering stainless steel hoppers to one of our astute customers across the Atlantic, delivering that added confidence that the control and traceability of metal powder quality brings.  Today they are considered state-of-the-art metal powder hoppers, yet we see our ground-breaking smart-containers as the printer cartridges of the future: slotting seamlessly into the AM process, adding value for the end user.

The Hoppers can be used both to transport powders from the powder supplier to the manufacturing facility and also to store the powder in when not in use.  The QR coded units store up to 120 litres of powder, eradicating the need to have large volumes of smaller plastic containers and minimising manual handling which can result in metal powders being accidentally mixed, or mixing of the same powder from a different batch.

Fully sealed under an inert atmosphere and charged through tamper evident valves, the hoppers ensure that the powder stays dry and free from contaminants such as oxygen and nitrogen, which is critical as contamination could otherwise adversely affect the built parts.  The smart hoppers contain sensors that monitor the weight, humidity, temperature, pressure, and oxygen levels of the metal powder.  All data collected during transportation and storage can be uploaded into LPW’s quality control software package which manages data from powders across multiple locations and multiple machines to give a clear overview of production status.

The Hoppers can be customised so that they can be effectively integrated into end users’ processes.  The ability to be fully informed about the condition of the feedstock being introduced into the AM process and to be in control of tracking and tracing which powders produced which parts offers LPW’s customers a real competitive edge.

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