As metal additive manufacturing (AM) sees widespread adoption in the industrial space, post-processing technologies have experienced their own related growth into the 3D printing sector. This includes the crucial technology of hot isostatic pressing (HIP), which is often necessary to improve the mechanical and structural properties of 3D printed metal parts. Demonstrating the expansion of metal processing driven by AM, the U.K.’s Wallwork Group is set to open a HIP center in Bury, North Manchester, in September 2023.
At the center of Wallwork’s HIP center will be a QIH 173L M URC from Sweden-based from Quintus Technologies, optimized for high-performance material processing. This press is designed to operate at a maximum temperature of 1250°C and a pressure of 207 MPa, with a work zone of 800 mm in diameter and 2550 mm in heigh and boasting a capacity of over 7000 kg per cycle The system also features Quintus Technologies’ proprietary uniform rapid cooling (URC), making it especially well-suited for mission-critical applications where material uniformity is a priority.
The Role of HIP in Metal 3D Printing
HIP is commonly employed in the densification of metal castings and forgings. It helps in eliminating internal porosity and improves the overall mechanical properties of the cast or forged parts. As AM has entered its industrial era, these same benefits have been carried over to the 3D printing sector.
One of the primary challenges in metal 3D printing is the formation of pores or voids within printed parts. These pores can significantly degrade the mechanical properties of the final components, making them unsuitable for mission-critical applications like aerospace or medical implants.
HIP addresses this by applying high temperature and isotropic pressure to fully densify the material, effectively eliminating or minimizing porosity. Additionally, the isotropic pressure ensures that mechanical properties are uniform throughout the component. This is particularly crucial for parts that will be used in applications where they are subjected to multi-axial stresses and need to perform reliably over an extended period.
HIP not only removes porosity but also leads to an improvement in various material properties such as fatigue strength, ductility, and fracture toughness. This makes HIP-treated parts more reliable and durable, expanding their applicability in high-stress environments. Moreover, because 3D printed components can have intricate geometries that may be difficult to machine, HIP makes it possible to process them to near-net shapes without the need for extensive post-processing steps, such as machining or grinding. This can result in cost savings and streamline the overall production process.
Outside of the often-necessary benefits that HIP brings to 3D printed metal parts, the enhanced material properties achieved through HIP can make it feasible to use new types of alloys or combinations of materials that were previously considered unsuitable for certain applications. This opens up new avenues for innovation in material science within the additive manufacturing sector.
Quintus and the Wallwork Group
The Wallwork Group is a thermal treatment and physical vapor deposition (PVD) processing organization that offers a range of services including heat treatments, vacuum brazing, and PVD coatings. The HIP Centre is part of Wallwork Group’s broader strategic investment to expand its thermal processing capabilities. With a total commitment of £20 million over five years, the Bury HIP Centre alone accounts for a £10 million investment. This expansion is in response to the burgeoning 3D printing sector.
Quintus Technologies is a Sweden-based global leader in high-pressure technology, specializing in the densification of advanced materials, sheet metal forming, and food and beverage processing. With 300 employees, the company reported sales of SEK 1.2 billion in 2022 and has a presence in 45 countries. Quintus has been operational since 1953, has delivered 1,900 high-pressure systems across sectors including energy, medical implants, aerospace, and automotive, and holds various patents in the field.
As a prominent player in the HIP space, Quintus has steadily increased its role in 3D printing, bringing on such key AM users as Sintavia and Burloak. In the case of Burloak, for instance, the company has said that having HIP in-house has not only reduced lead times but also improved quality control. Burloak apply HIP mostly on aluminum, titanium, and some high nickel alloys.
“As the industry leader in high pressure for over 70 years, we have seen the need for Hot Isostatic Pressing increase steadily,” said Jan Söderström, CEO of Quintus Technologies. “Wallwork has a solid understanding of the value of this process, and we share a similar focus on customer-driven problem solving and long- term supplier partnerships. We are very pleased to see the establishment of their HIP Centre with our technology at its core.”
David Loughlin, Wallwork HIP Business Manager, commented, “HIP is extremely efficient at removing the porosity from AM parts made from metal powders. This densification process is often the only way for AM builds to fulfill their safety-critical potential.”
In addition to additive manufacturing, the QIH 173L press will serve various industries requiring densification processes. This includes castings, forgings, and subtractively engineered components. However, because of the use of HIP in a number of AM-adjacent sectors or industries where the technology is becoming more prevalent, we can imagine further symbiotic growth.
For instance, HIP is used to produce advanced ceramics and composite materials with superior mechanical properties, to process medical implants, for sealing and encapsulating electronics, and to produce parts for nuclear reactors and wind turbines. It should be no surprise then that Quintus and other heat treatment companies will benefit from the post-processing boom that is set to reach $1.8 billion in revenues by 2031, according to the “Post-Processing for Additive Manufacturing: Market Analysis and Forecast” report from SmarTech Analysis.