ArcelorMittal (NYSE: MT), a roughly USD$80 billion steel and mining company, recently announced its formal foray into the additive manufacturing (AM) market as a steel powder supplier. Though this is the Indian steel giant’s first official business dedicated to 3D printing, it is not its only experience in the space. Both this new announcement and its existing role in AM could have potentially strong significance for the industry at large, as well as India’s place as a burgeoning superpower.
1,000 Tonnes of Steel 3D Printing Powders Annually
ArcelorMittal is constructing an industrial-scale inert gas atomizer in Aviles, Spain, which is poised to commence production in January 2024. ArcelorMittal’s product portfolio, marketed under the AdamIQ brand, will include various stainless steels, tool steels, and low alloy steels, with more products offered in the future.
The materials will be meant for all existing powder-based metal additive technologies, including laser powder bed fusion (LPBF), binder jetting (BJ), and direct energy deposition (DED). The atomizer boasts a substantial batch-size production capacity, ranging from 200 kg to 3 tonnes, with an initial annual capacity of 1,000 tonnes. To facilitate the commercialization of the atomizer’s output, ArcelorMittal has established a new business unit, ArcelorMittal Powders.
“We are proud to launch ArcelorMittal Powders, a new business unit that reflects our vision to be at the forefront of innovation and sustainability in the steel industry. By producing and supplying steel powders for additive manufacturing, we are expanding our portfolio of advanced materials and solutions for the future of manufacturing. We believe that steel has great potential to become the material of choice for additive manufacturing, thanks to its versatility, performance and sustainability,” said Gregory Ludkovsky, Chief Executive Officer of Global Research and Development, ArcelorMittal. “The additive manufacturing industry has grown phenomenally over the past decade and is expected to continue to grow in double digits over the next 10 years. While the production of steel powders is a new venture for ArcelorMittal, we are confident that our metallurgical expertise and solutions-based approach will provide our customers with the support they need to improve the quality and reliability of their additive manufacturing projects.”
Significant to the development is the fact that the atomizer will produce powders from scrap steel. This process will employ renewable electricity and industrial gases generated from renewable energy sources, while the packaging used will be recycled and recyclable.
“Additive manufacturing is an area we have been investing in and building our capabilities for several years, and we are now ready to scale up our production and offer our customers and partners a reliable and competitive source of high-quality steel powders,” contributed Colin Hautz, CEO of ArcelorMittal Powders. “From our facility in Spain, we will offer a range of steel powders tailored to our customers’ needs. A technology as innovative and disruptive as additive manufacturing not only allows us to think about changes in the design and manufacturing process of many parts and components we use today, but also exploit one of the inherently sustainable characteristics of steel – its recyclability.”
ArcelorMittal’s Historic Involvement in AM
ArcelorMittal’s involvement in steel powder production dates back to before 2017, when it launched its pilot atomizer at its AM lab in Aviles. At this time, the firm was involved in establishing MIT’s Center for Additive and Digital Advanced Production Technologies. Starting in 2019, it began supporting the Spanish 3D printing incubator IAM 3D HUB. Since 2017, it has been a partner of Additive Industries for the 3D printing of spare parts.
However, ArcelorMittal’s activities weren’t only focused on PBF, as the company also collaborated with MX3D on its 3D printed bridge in Amsterdam. Moreover, according to ADDiTEC CEO Brian Matthews, ArcelorMittal was integral in the formation of DED company Meltio, as the steel manufacturer introduced ADDiTEC to Spanish 3D printing firm Sicnova, which led to the creation of Meltio
Since then, ArcelorMittal has joined an EU project to accelerate the adoption of DED for the construction of metal joints, as well as a partnership with Schneider Electric to establish a higher education program for smart manufacturing in India. This latter initiative is important given the rising role that India has in global affairs.
India as an AM Superpower
From being the 11th largest economy in the world in the early 2000s, India became the 5th largest by 2019, overtaking the United Kingdom and France. In terms of AM, the country’s “Make in India” strategy seeks to carve out a five percent stake in the global AM market, with the aim of contributing nearly US$ 1 billion to India’s GDP by 2025.
Interestingly, the ongoing conflict in Ukraine may have had a benefit for Indian steel production. As sanctions impacted the Russian economy, foreign competitors were able to fill the vacuum. This was the case for the steel sector, which was significantly hampered by sanctions. Meanwhile, despite a significant drop in exports, India remained a net exporter of finished steel products, with imports amounting to 6.02 million metric tons, up 29 percent from the year before.
In terms of the AM market, we can see how a player like ArcelorMittal can step in as a 3D printing powders provider just as a Russian giant like Rusal is forced to reduce its role in the space. Two primary factors influenced the company’s decision to enter the steel powders market. Firstly, the recognition of the AM industry’s embryonic phase and its exciting growth potential. Secondly, feedback from industrial customers highlighted the need for consistent batch-to-batch quality to enhance production reliability and repeatability, which is crucial for the broader adoption of AM in larger production runs.
ArcelorMittal’s Influence on Metal 3D Printing
Now that it is formally involved in 3D printing, we can expect important, if subtle, impacts on the industry. Historically, metals companies have played a significant role in global affairs, primarily through their impact on economies, politics, and technology.
Metals companies have been crucial in driving economic development in many countries. For instance, the mining and production of metals like steel and aluminum have been foundational for industrial growth and infrastructure development. Metals companies often hold significant political influence, especially in countries where they are major contributors to the economy. This can lead to lobbying efforts and involvement in policymaking, particularly regarding trade, environmental regulations, and labor laws.
The metals industry is central to global trade. Companies involved in metal production often engage in extensive international trade, influencing trade policies and economic relations between countries. Access to metal resources can be a factor in geopolitical tensions and conflicts, particularly in regions with rich metal deposits.
Because AM for end parts in the automotive sector is now growing quickly, we can expect this segment to be positively impacted by ArcelorMittal, a key supplier to the industry. As the steel giant is already helping automotive OEMs and Tier Ones comply with the EU7 regulation on particle emissions through brake disc coatings, it would make sense for the company to expand to other areas of automotive materials. This may also be a boon for startups already affiliated with ArcelorMittal, such as MX3D, ADDiTEC, and Meltio.