Metal Powder Storage and Transportation: A Comparison

05 Jun, 2024

Production-scale additive manufacturing relies on the safe transportation and storage of powder feedstock. Metal powders for 3D printing are sensitive to environmental factors and must be handled carefully to preserve their mechanical properties, quality, and regulatory compliance. Proper handling minimizes powder escape, keeping the AM environment and the people who work in it safe. It also promotes efficiencies via inventory management and reduced downtime, saving both time and money. 

Powder handling has evolved over the years, which means additive manufacturers have a choice in selecting the best powder transportation and storage solution for their operations. Let’s explore the options. 

Plastic bottles: Portability  

Plastic bottles are designed with tamper-evident seals and tight-fitting, screw-on lids to ensure the security of the metal powder inside. Bottles are available with varying amounts of powder but are most sold in small 3.6 L quantities. As a result, shipping and handling are simple. The bottles are easy to pack and ship. Once on-site, they can be carried by hand with no equipment required — or boxed or palleted to transport larger quantities. The downside of the smaller containers is that the powder must be poured into AM machines one bottle at a time, which is inefficient and increases the risk of powder exposure and contamination. Metal powder from bottles is also only minimally trackable since any medium- or large-scale AM job requires multiple bottles to complete. 

Drums: Traditional reliability 

A staple of traditional manufacturing operations since the 1930s, metal drums have been the de facto choice for powder storage since the dawn of additive manufacturing. Drums offer sturdy construction in a range of sizes, providing reliable security for stored metal powder. They are also compatible with multiple shipping options, enabling easy transportation to AM facilities. Powder use, on the other hand, is more problematic. Dedicated equipment is required to integrate drums into production lines, reducing efficiency and creating more points of potential powder escape. Powder traceability depends on the size of the drum and whether it is coded for tracking. 

In-machine containers: Streamlined supply 

Some additive manufacturing systems offer in-machine containers, which provide a supply of metal powder directly to the machine. This integrated powder handling solution enables continuous production with minimal downtime — no manual feeding or additional powder delivery system required — plus strong powder security and trackability. The challenge with in-machine containers is that they are designed for use with specific AM machines and cannot be used with other systems. Having the containers refilled or ordering extra containers may also be expensive, as they are not standard sizes and generally aren’t suitable for shipping. 

120 L Hopper: Traceability 

Carpenter Additive is the first AM-focused materials company to engineer sustainable, production-ready bulk powder delivery solutions. Our first-generation Hopper was designed with enhanced tracking and traceability in mind, seamlessly integrating into any AM system with gravity- or vacuum-fed output. The 120 L Hopper is well suited for mid-scale AM operations. Like metal drums, equipment is required to integrate Hoppers into production lines. However, Hoppers do not need to be physically adapted and have valves engineered to maintain the inert atmosphere inside, prevent powder escape, and maintain powder quality. A removable frame ensures the safe transport of the Hopper. At nearly 3 feet square, on-site powder handling requires a hand truck or forklift. 

250 and 500 L Hoppers: Capacity 

The next generation of Carpenter Additive Hoppers provides a closed-loop powder supply solution, from the point of atomization to loading your AM machines. The 250 and 500 L Hoppers deliver a high-volume powder supply for large-scale AM operations — up to 2 metric tons per Hopper. This allows manufacturers to transport, store, and use large quantities of powder with ease, efficiency, safety, and industry-leading traceability. The 250 and 500 L Hoppers include all the safety features of the 120 L hopper, plus additional valves. Reusable, recyclable, and easy to clean, the Hoppers help AM operations scale up while meeting their sustainability goals.   

Comparative analysis 


Plastic bottle 

Drum container 

In-machine container 

120 L Hopper 

250/500 L Hoppers 


3.6 L 
(1 gal) 

19–208 L 
(5–55 gal) 


120 L 
(31 gal) 

250 L (66 gal) 

500 L (132 gal) 

Weight capacity 

Up to 10 kg 
(22 lbs) 



Up to 400 kg 
(881 lbs) 

250 L 
Up to 1000 kg 
(2204 lbs) 

500 L 
Up to 2000 kg 
(4409 lbs) 


Tamper-evident seal, screw-on lid 

Tamper-evident seal, sealed metal container 

Designed to fit specific AM system 

Safety frame, security butterfly valve, patented safety blank and valve-blocker 

Two security butterfly valves, patented safety blank and valve-blocker 

Transportation to site 

Standard shipping or freight, extra packaging required when transporting in bulk 

Standard shipping or freight 

Based on specific AM system 



On-site handling 

Hand carry, hand truck, forklift 

Depends on drum size 

Based on container specs 

2-way access for hand truck, forklift 

4-way access for hand truck, forklift, crane lift 

On-site use and safety 

Powder hand poured into AM machine or powder handling vessel 

Suction hose transfers powder into AM machine 

Powder fed directly into AM machine 

Butterfly valve for contained powder output under gravity or vacuum 

Butterfly valve for contained powder output under gravity or vacuum 


Tracked per bottle, multiple bottles required per print job 

Depends on drum size 

Designed to work within its parent AM system 

Tracked per 120 L batch 

Tracked per 250 or 500 L batch 

Usable on all AM machines? 






Quantity needed to fill a production-scale AM machine? *






*Assumes a 350 kg-capacity AM machine using a nickel-based metal AM powder. 

While plastic bottles offer versatility and portability, they may lack on-site usability, particularly for production-scale additive manufacturing. Traditional drums deliver reliable storage but require additional powder delivery considerations. In-machine hoppers excel in streamlining powder handling but may require specialized shipping and are not transferable between machine types. The Carpenter Additive 120 L Hopper prioritizes tracking and traceability for a bulk supply of metal powder. And our 250 and 500 L Hoppers cater to high-volume production needs with robust security measures and seamless integration. 

Ultimately, additive manufacturers should evaluate their unique needs and workflow requirements to make an informed decision on which powder storage solution is right for them. 

Talk to a Powder Handling Expert Discover the Hoppers                                            

Tags: additive manufacturing, 3d printing, metal powders for 3d printing, bulk powder delivery, closed-loop powder supply, production-scale additive manufacturing

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