Particulate Engineering - from feedstock to end use

Materials World magazine
20 Dec 2018

The Particulate Engineering for Industry 4.0 – from feedstock to end use – took place on 27 November, 2018, in London, UK. Members of the academic and industrial community came together at the latest event led by the Particulate Engineering Committee (PEC) of the IOM3 on industry 4.0 – from feedstock to end use. A series of presentations from PEC members, as well as industrial members of TWI and innovation accelerators made the event a success, with an international delegate list from the UK and wider Europe.

The forum was open to professionals, industrialists, R&D, production and procurement specialists, quality control, health and safety personnel, as well as entrepreneurs, innovators and investors. It presented a great opportunity to undergraduate and post-graduate students to appreciate the subject and network with a number of organisations from industry and academia in an international medium.

This year’s PEC event focused on Industry 4.0 and more particularly in the powders/particulates aspects, covering different materials systems, manufacturing techniques like additive, HIP and fast forging for metals and alloys, as well as other net shape routes like rotational moulding for polymers. Contributions included advances in non-destructive evaluation (NDE), automation and machine learning aspects to an extent, as new systems are integrated with production/manufacturing lines with examples given. The programme aimed to bring together members of the supply chain – micro SMEs, SMEs and large enterprises, holdings, multinationals and the innovation community, with representations from academia seeking to bring new research forward for the benefit of the industrial companies, and generating skilled professionals to implement these in the field. 

PEC is the leading formation in the UK with extended links to wider Europe and beyond. It represents the voice of the particulate engineering and powder metallurgy community in various ways through its members and initiatives. This event is a demonstration of the strong interest in the field internationally with representations from many countries, and it has been designed to encourage networking throughout the day.        


After a welcome by the PEC Chair, Cem Selcuk of TWI, the event kicked off with the first of two presentations on the topic of industrialisation of additive manufacturing (AM), Removing the Barriers to Adoption, by Jason Dawes of MTC, followed by James Hunt of the AMRC. These drew on various aspects of AM being adopted by safety critical industry sectors, like aerospace, in high value added applications, which demonstrate the speed of advancement and uptake of this powder consuming manufacturing technique. In pursuit of achieving a fully streamlined industrial production environment, AM machines are being coupled with robots for automation, scanners for quality control as much as possible for 100% traceability, validation and certification so that the batch process can be as efficient as possible. There appear to be still some areas like powder feedstock quality, chemistry and handling and its sourcing that can be considered as bottleneck providers or inhibitors for meeting the technical and commercial requirements. However, with several collaborations underway, especially across the UK innovation platforms, e.g. Innovate UK-funded projects, and regional developments supporting the technology, there is plenty on offer for stakeholders.

After a break, Jim Shipley of Quintus talk on hot isostatic pressing (HIP) technology and high-pressure heat treatment (HPHT) – an enabler for AM. With strong background in high-temperature materials, including Duplex stainless steel, titanium and nickel base alloys, Jim highlighted the use of HIP as a necessary production step for high-end industries, such as aerospace, in order to achieve mechanical properties and ensure desired fatigue life. Traditional practice requires further heat treatment processes due to the inability to quench under pressure. However, recent advancements and introduction of high-pressure quenching under pressure, allowed to bring out the benefits of HIP and related cost reductions that one can anticipate. The high-pressure isostatic atmosphere in HIP has been shown to have significant effect on the phase transformations and cooling curves, which in turn allows for further optimisation of properties such as hardness, and eliminating the need for heat treatment of materials as in the traditional route. In relation to AM, more recent developments for in-line processing of parts using HPHT with real-life examples of heat treatment cycles were presented for securing a better process control and quality.

Next was a presentation by Mihai Iovea of AP2K Romania on the latest status of the new capability for accurate 3D measurement and high-resolution, non-destructive testing of sintered parts by an Industry 4.0 in-line equipment (XShaper with Nurol Technology Inc.), AP2K designed and manufactured various X-ray high-resolution scanning machines primarily for sintered part scanning, based on mini/microfocus X-ray tubes and special X-ray detectors, namely time delayed integration (TDI). The most recently designed equipment under construction is the XShaper – a complex in-line belt based scanner internal integrity and dimensional control of ballistic sintered plated manufactured by Nurol, Turkey. The new equipment combined two advanced methods – a laser based system for 3D plate shape measurement (external dimensions) and X-ray digital imaging system for internal defect identification based on a mini-focus X-ray source and two X-ray TDI detectors. The Xshaper is able to scan a sample with typical size of 240 x 290mm2in less than 60 seconds, enabled by the fast scanning and defect detection algorithms. The laser profile is able to measure sintered parts with a maximum size of 300 x 400mm2with an overall dimensional accuracy of over 98% and the achievable X-ray image resolution of approximately 70 micrometres, sufficient for detecting the thinnest possible defects including cracks. The equipment is able to accommodate both green and sintered parts and density variations.

Part two 

After lunch and a busy networking session, Cem Sapmaz of Nurol Technology from Ankara Turkey, the end user for the XShaper, elaborated on the fabrication and characterisation of near net shape in-situ reaction bonded boron carbide ceramics. Nurol designs, develops and manufactures ballistic protection for security personnel, land vehicles, helicopters and naval fields as part of International Defence, Safety and Security solutions. Ceramic products are commonly produced by sintering a porous compact at high temperatures to achieve densification. Depending on the component size, shape complexity, and surface quality, machining of a sintered ceramic can amount to more than 50% of the production costs. Inhomogeneous shrinkage may result in residual stress generation and in turn cracking in for example large components. Reducing or even eliminating shrinkage leads to higher dimensional accuracy and reproducibility. This prospect is offered by reaction bonding which presents the possibility and ultimately the advantage of near net shape manufacturing of components at lower process temperatures (e.g. around 1,400ºC) compared with the sintering temperatures in the first place. Reaction bonding as fabrication methods offer a low cost route to produce composites with effective impact resistance / ballistic behaviour. However, despite this potential, processing variables may reduce the ceramic mechanical properties. It is therefore paramount to establish the process-microstructure and property relationships, which are critical to understand and control the reaction bonding of ceramics for lightweight armour applications.

Gavin Baxter of Rolls Royce next took the stage, with a talk on the use of laser blown powder directed energy deposition in repair of aerospace components like blades and blisks. His presentation particularly focused on the effect of powder particle parameters and chemistry on the process and the resulting microstructural features that underline the material properties that can be achieved. Gavin has been closely working on the characterisation requirements for metal powders across the additive manufacturing – laser blown powders for repair applications and loose powder field of technologies. He has been maintaining strong links with the UK Universities hosting 30-40 PhD students aligned to these areas of research as an industrial lead and supervisor for the underpinning academic studies. 

Following on was Michael Evans, CEO of Cambridge Carbon Capture, a start up SME developing game-changing CO2capture and mineralisation technology permanently converting CO2to valuable mineral by products. Michael talked about the importance of supply chains in tackling climate change. He brought along samples (mineral compacts / blocks) produced by the CaCaCa’s bespoke technology as demonstrator pieces that was available for the audience to see and examine. There are applications in process for engagement with power stations and companies to get involved.

The eye-opening presentation from Michael was followed by the Executive Director of EPMA Lionel Aboussouan, who gave an overview of the status and trends in the powder metallurgy industry (PM). The European PM industry is a sector that has been dynamic and successful consistently over many years with growth almost every year. EPMA is an overarching association with over 200 European companies from the PM supply chain. It has links with other associations, e.g. APMI/MPIF and JPMA, that come together at the World PM Congress every four years. Otherwise, EPMA has a European PM Congress and Exhibition on an annual basis and the next one will be held in Maastricht in 2019. Lionel captured the continued increase of powder and parts productions in most sectors – automotive being a driver as every car that is manufactured has PM parts in its making. Not only the traditional press and sinter, but up an coming technologies such as additive manufacturing that rely on powders, MIM, HIP, hard metal applications all experience growth of economic activities due to an overall sustained European business. Lionel concluded with the core missions of EPMA to promote and develop PM that has particulate engineering at its heart, in response to innovations, e.g. electrification.

Wrapping up 

Then, delegates gathered again for a presentation by the polymers industry – one of the tier suppliers to automotive industry and innovators in rotational moulding technology – Floteks, an established SME from Bursa, Turkey. General Manager of Floteks, Mehmet Beysel, made a presentation highlighting aspects and real-life implementations of Industry 4.0 in polymer processing as an example from rotomoulding. Rotational moulding, or rotomoulding as most people refer to it, is a technology that is suitable and used to form large and complicated polymeric parts. The technology may somewhat be less widely spread that blow moulding or injection moulding, however, it is used around the world in many industries. With a lower mould cost, typically high labour content and longer processing times, it is ideal for smaller quantities in production. As a batch process that requires mould changes and process alterations depending on the parts – geometry and end user requirements, it is certainly a technology that can benefit from Industry 4.0. In fact, Floteks has implemented many such improvements in its production facility and manufacturing portfolio that covers raw materials handling to, process efficiency to quality control and automation thereby increasing productivity. Floteks has been producing fuel tanks, AdBlue tanks, air ducts and similar parts as a result with an increasing quality and added value. The parts have been serving commercial vehicles such as buses, tractors and trucks, alongside main customers such as the global end users like Mercedes and MAN.

Next to speak was Martin Jackson, Director of Aerospace Engineering at the University of Sheffield, with a talk on FAST-forge that has been developing for aerospace components from titanium alloy particulates into near net shape components. His presentation described a new solid state hybrid manufacturing route called FAST-forge for converting titanium alloy powder into components with wrought properties in two steps – utilising field assisted sintering technology (FAST) to produce a shaped preform billet that is then finished to near net shape by closed die hot forging. The route has been demonstrated using a range of titanium alloy powders and particulates into near net shapes prior to machining as a finish. Over the last couple of years several demonstrator components such as brake callipers, rocker arms and blades have been successfully produced and Martin shared examples of industrial collaborations and highlights of the innovation projects in the UK.

The final speaker of the day was David Rowe of Cedar Metals, on the factors affecting the particle size of refractory metal powders. With Cedar’s background in refractory metals and rate earths from mine to finished products including powder production, consolidation and sintering including furnace design and fabrication techniques, David focused his talk metals like tantalum, molybdenum and tungsten. Simple methods for producing spherical molybdenum powder using a spray dryer and free-flowing coarse-grained molybdenum particulates for plasma spraying were discussed. Finally, the meeting concluded with thanks to all the speakers, delegates and supporters.

The international, one-day meeting was organised by the PEC of IOM3, sponsored by Hilti, Quintus, Floteks, and supported by EPMA, TWI and The Welding Institute. Sincere thanks and appreciation go to several sponsors and supporters of the meeting, including Hilti, Quintus, Floteks, EPMA, TWI, the Welding Institute and the IOM3 events department, with the IOM3 PEC. 

For further information on PEC, please visit