GFG Alliance’s LIBERTY Powder Metals has started commercial production at its high tech new Teesside powder metals facility, targeting fast-growing demand from the advanced manufacturing and 3D printing industries. LIBERTY Powder Metals will produce a range of stainless steel and nickel superalloy powders for precision components in demanding sectors such as automotive, aerospace and engineering, the premium end of the global powder metals market already worth more than GBP 2 billion a year. The cutting-edge powder production process cuts carbon emissions by 85% compared with the traditional steel route, part of LIBERTY Steel’s CN30 strategy that will make the company carbon neutral by 2030.
Installation and commissioning have successfully overcome significant challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has restricted the number of contractors able to work on site and impacted on the delivery of equipment. Commissioning of the powder metals facility, known as an atomiser, includes a series of ‘acceptance melts’ which LIBERTY must perform before the plant is handed over for full operation. The atomiser allows LIBERTY to melt a range of defined chemistries and pour the liquid stream through an aperture, using inert gas to break this into fine droplets, which then solidify to create powder, secure and confined to avoid contamination from outside sources. The powders undergo further processing including optimisation and characterisation before final tests and despatch to customers. The same post-atomisation processing activities are deployed for all metal powders in an extensive portfolio which includes aluminium, titanium and cobalt alloys.
The landmark is the culmination of a two-year collaboration with the Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen and the Combined Authority, which provided GBP 4.6 million of funding, and the Materials Processing Institute, which housed the atomiser beside its own research facilities. Atomising Systems Ltd and Consarc Engineering have worked closely on equipment design.