Innovative key technology for hard metals

There is good news for all businesses who are producing or who are in need of complicated metal components that can resist very high temperatures. ECN has developed a powder metallurgic injection moulding technology that is able to produce such components at a lower cost, while also making them stronger. The technology can also be the key to developing entirely new materials, because it enables an unprecedented, wide range of new alloys and doping.

Superior qualities

The powder metallurgic moulding technology, which is already being used for less exotic materials such as components for the car industry, is currently successfully applied to high purity tungsten. The technology was invented in the framework of nuclear fusion research, but has turned out to be promising for all applications involving performance at high temperatures or sparks, or where people and animals need to be protected against radioactive radiation. Tungsten in the form of powder is mixed with plastic binding components, enabling moulding in any desired shape. Afterwards, the plastic is removed, first by dissolving part of it, and subsequently by firing away the rest. Finally, the material is sintered at a high temperature; it is heated such that the structure changes and becomes very hard. What remains is a wear proof component that has exactly the right shape and can resist high temperatures of over 2000°C. Because the element does not need forceful finishing – given that tungsten is a very hard material – it can be manufactured at a lower cost, it does not show any surface defects and its microstructure is more stable. The elements produced by powder metallurgy are also stronger and more flexible at lower temperatures compared to conventionally produced elements.


Tungsten components with base and shaft connected through injection moulding. Both components have a slightly deviating composition. Concept components for nuclear fusion application.

KeyTec

In May, ECN entered into a license agreement for the powder metallurgic moulding technology with KeyTec, an international supplier of high precision materials and components. Together, the partners are going to serve new markets and they think they can make a difference with this innovative production method. Contacts have already been made with well-known multinationals such as ASML, which produces machines for the semi-conducting industry, and with Philips. ECN and KeyTec are currently using the technology for tungsten and molybdenum, but they are also working on other developments, allowing the technology to be used for other high quality materials with a high point of fusion. The powder metallurgic injection moulding technology can also be the key to developing entirely new materials, because it enables an unprecedented, wide range of new alloys and doping.

Would you like to get more information about powder metallurgic injection moulding technology? Please contact Erik Koopmans.