Rio Tinto develops new additive steel powder

Mining giant Rio Tinto has created a new type of steel powder specifically designed for 3D printing, which it claims will bring mechanical benefits to components.

The new product has been developed over the past four years at the company’s Rio Tinto Fer et Titane (RTFT) metallurgical complex in Sorel-Tracy, Quebec. RTFT operates an open cast ilmenite mine at Lac Tio on Quebec’s North Shore, with ore from the mine used to produce high-quality titanium dioxide feedstock, pig iron, steel and metal at the nearby metallurgical complex. The steel powder, created using a water atomiser, is claimed by Rio Tinto to deliver mechanical properties superior to conventional metal manufacturing techniques, and could help fuel advances in metallurgical 3D printing.

“This is a new generation of steel powders designed for 3D printing at RTFT’s metallurgical complex, where we have over 50 years of experience in making steel and iron powders,” said Stéphane Leblanc, Rio Tinto Iron and Titanium managing director.

“Our new additive manufacturing steel powder grade, produced with the largest water atomiser in North America, brings a very competitive raw material addition to the growing 3D market.”

The powder was created by researchers at RTFT’s Critical Minerals and Technology Centre, which carries out research on process improvement as well as new product development. Working with Germany’s KSB SE & Co. KGaA – whose pump and valve expertise has led them into industrial additive manufacturing – Rio Tinto has developed full-scale industrial parts have been produced and tested, including parts for liquid iron casting equipment at the company’s Sorel-Tracy site in Quebec.