Titanium Powders and Explosion Proof Vacuums

Most people don’t think twice about their home vacuum. Others have a preferred vacuum, maybe a Dyson or a Miele.  At PrinterPrezz, we have our favorites: Ruwac, Tigervac, and Nilfisk explosion proof vacuums.

As we spoke about in chapters 1 and 2, printing in metals, particularly titanium alloys, have unique strengths and advantages over other types of manufacturing.  But as with any exotic technology, there must be challenges.  When it comes to titanium 3D printing, safety is a big challenge because of the raw materials used.

In Chapter 2, we talk about the wonderful benefits of the titanium alloy, Ti6Al4V ELI. Those are the benefits realized in the finished product. When 3D printing with metal, powdered metals are used as the feed material which are then melted using a high-power laser in sequential ultra-thin layers.  Well, the metal powders used in 3D printing can be as small as 15 microns in size. That’s about the width of three human red blood cells!

The surface area of such fine powders makes titanium powder extremely FLAMMABLE and SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUSTIBLE. It gets even more complicated.  Suppose you do have a titanium fire — and then your overhead automated sprinkler system turns on.  Now we’re really in trouble. Contact of burning titanium with water during a fire event will generate flammable HYDROGEN GAS, which can explode, disturbing more powder and causing even more damage.

Control of static electricity and discharge is therefore critical. Measures used to protect our employees when working with powdered Titanium include conductive flooring which is grounded as well as specialized personal protective equipment. Continuous housekeeping and cleaning is maintained to minimize accumulation of titanium powder on floors and horizontal surfaces. Any type of vacuuming is avoided, even with explosion proof vacuums, and instead non-sparking tools made from beryllium copper must be used and clean up with a natural-fiber broom and non-sparking aluminum dust pan are necessary. When printing, the entire build environment must be enveloped in a blanket of pure Argon gas.  The removal of oxygen is critical not only for safety against combustion but also in ensuring the mechanical strength of the finished product.

Fire-risks aren’t the only issues.  Our personnel have to take their own precautions when working with titanium powders also. Besides personal protective equipment including full Tyvek® suits, full respirators with NIOSH P100 certification are necessary due to the fatal risk of inhaling titanium powder — a more stringent requirement than the N95 masks used by healthcare professionals when dealing with patients carrying deadly diseases such as tuberculosis, Ebola virus, SARS or MERS.

Thankfully, our customers never have to worry about this.  We take care of all of the safety and regulatory issues and training associated with running a titanium 3D printing facility.  Working with PrinterPrezz makes metal printing as straightforward and easy as working with plastic.  PrinterPrezz is the first and only medifacturing company in the world that solves the needs of medical contract manufacturing with materials such as Ti6Al4V-ELI.

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