Applications and Uses of Superalloy Powder

Overview of Superalloy Powder

Superalloy powder is a high-performance material used to produce parts for demanding applications in aerospace, power generation, and industrial processes. Superalloys have excellent mechanical strength, resistance to thermal creep deformation, surface stability, and corrosion/oxidation resistance at high temperatures.

Superalloy powders are alloy compositions produced via gas atomization into fine powders with particle sizes suitable for powder metallurgy techniques. The most widely used superalloys are nickel, cobalt or iron-based alloys. Nickel-based superalloys make up over 50% of the total share. The grain structure and unique properties of superalloys are due to solid solution strengthening by refractory metals like molybdenum and tungsten along with precipitation hardening by intermediate phases.

Key properties and characteristics of superalloy powders:

CompositionNickel, cobalt, iron-based alloys with chromium, aluminum, titanium, tantalum etc.
Alloying elementsChromium, aluminum, titanium, molybdenum, tungsten, niobium, tantalum
Manufacturing processGas atomization into fine spherical powders
Particle shapeSpherical morphology ideal for powder metallurgy
Particle size distributionTypically 10 – 45 microns
Powder flowabilityGood flow characteristics
Thermal stabilityRetain strength at temperatures over 1000°C
DensityAround 8-9 g/cm3
StrengthVery high strength up to 1300 MPa
Corrosion resistanceExcellent oxidation and corrosion resistance
Superalloy Powder

Applications and Uses of Superalloy Powder

Superalloy powder has become an indispensable material across aerospace, power generation, and general industrial sectors due to its high performance properties. Some key applications include:

AerospaceTurbocharger wheels, turbine blades, discs, fasteners, rocket nozzles, thrust reverser systems
Power generationTurbine blades, discs, shafts for land-based gas turbines, generators
Oil and gasDownhole tools, valves, drill bits, completion tools
AutomotiveTurbocharger components, valves, rings, exhaust components
General industryExtrusion dies, forming tools, valve and pump parts, heat treatment fixtures
Chemical processingHeat exchangers, reaction vessels, valves

The unique capability of superalloys to maintain mechanical strength, creep resistance, and oxidation/corrosion resistance at high temperatures above 1000°C makes them indispensable in jet engines, land-based gas turbines, as well as applications involving extreme environments. Their use continues rising across industries.

Types of Superalloy Powders

Many variants of superalloy powder have been developed over the decades to meet increasingly demanding property requirements. They can be categorized into several major alloy families:

Nickel-Based Superalloys

Nickel-based superalloys make up over 50% of all superalloys produced. Their high temperature strength comes from solid solution strengthening by refractory metals like Mo, Ta, W and precipitation hardening by intermediate phases like Ni3(Al, Ti). Common alloys are:

  • Inconel 718
  • Inconel 625
  • Rene 65
  • Waspaloy

Cobalt-Based Superalloys

These contain more than 50% cobalt and elements like chromium, tungsten and molybdenum. They have excellent high temperature strength up to 1100°C. Common alloys are:

  • Haynes 25
  • FSX-414
  • Haynes 188

Iron-Based Superalloys

Iron-nickel and iron-nickel-cobalt alloys strengthened with additions of chromium, aluminum and yttrium. They are more ductile and cheaper but have lower strength than Ni and Co alloys. Examples are:

  • A-286
  • 901
  • 903

Oxide Dispersion-Strengthened Superalloys

These contain highly stable oxide particles like yttria that hinder dislocation motion. This provides excellent creep resistance at extreme temperatures beyond 1100°C. Alloys are:

  • MA-6000E
  • MA-754
  • MA-6000

Superalloy Powder Specifications

Superalloy powder is produced in various alloy grades and powder size distributions to meet requirements of different additive manufacturing processes and final part properties.

Alloy gradesInconel 718, Haynes 282, Rene 65, Hastelloy X, 316L, 17-4PH etc.
Powder size10 – 45 microns typical
Particle shapeSpherical morphology
Size distributionUnimodal distributions like 10-25μm or bi-modalmixtures like 10-45 μm
FlowabilityHall flowrate > 28 s/50g, AOR > 0.80
Apparent densityAround 2 – 5 g/cc loose powder to 60% dense parts
Purity>99.9%, gas atomization gives high purity
Oxygen content<100 ppm
Hydrogen content<5 ppm

Critical parameters are powder size, shape, chemical composition, flow characteristics, apparent density, and purity levels. These determine processability as well as final part quality.

Superalloy Powder Design Standards

While superalloys were initially designed using empirical development, computational thermodynamics now allows predicting phase equilibria and properties.

AMS 5383GStandard specification for nickel-based superalloy powders for rhenium-free applications
AMS 5662MCarburization and heat treatment of nickel alloy parts
AMS 2759/6Age hardening heat treatment for superalloy investment castings
AMS 2774AHeat treatment of cobalt alloy parts
AMS 5664MPreparation of cobalt alloy parts for thermal processing
ASTM B214Standard for superalloy powder characterization
ISO 4957:1999Method to determine powder flow rate

Both ASTM International and ASM International provide extensive resources on recommended practices for superalloy powder production, thermal processing, quality control, testing procedures, and applications.

Superalloy Powder Manufacturing Process

Gas atomization is the primary technique for production of fine superalloy powder suitable for additive manufacturing. The process involves:

  1. Induction melting ingots of the alloy composition
  2. Pouring the melt stream into a close-coupled atomization nozzle
  3. Breaking up the melt into fine droplets by high pressure atomization gas (N2 or Ar)
  4. Solidification of powder as spherical particles in the spray chamber
  5. Collection of classified powder fractions

The cooling rate of 106 K/s gives a fine grained microstructure. Powders display spherical morphology critical for flowability.

Superalloy Powder Pricing

Superalloy powder is a premium material with pricing depending on the alloy grade, quality level, lot size and manufacturer. Some typical price ranges are:

SuperalloyPrice Range
Inconel 718$50 – $120 per kg
Inconel 625$60 – $250 per kg
Haynes 282®$60 – $120 per kg
Rene 65$150 – $200 per kg

Prices depend on:

  • Base metal prices – nickel, cobalt, chromium
  • Purity levels
  • Powder quality – particle size distribution, flowability, apparent density
  • Order quantity – 1 kg to tonnage bulk orders
  • Manufacturer’s proprietary composition, quality standards

Top Superalloy Powder Suppliers

Major global suppliers of high-performance superalloy powders include:

SupplierKey Products
Sandvik OspreyRene 65, Inconel 718, 625, Hastelloy X
Lockheed MartinTi-6Al-4V, Inconel 718, 316L
PraxairTi-6Al-4V titanium, cobalt alloys
AP&CRene 65 and 88, Astroloy, LSHR
Tekna Advanced MaterialsUDIMET 720, A286, 316L, 17-4PH
Carpenter Additive17-4PH, IN625, Ti-6Al-4V
Oerlikon MetcoWaspaloy, Hastelloy X, Haynes 282
ErasteelCustom nickel and iron-based alloys

Factors to consider when selecting a supplier include:

  • Range of alloys offered
  • Consistency in chemical composition and powder quality
  • Lower oxygen and nitrogen impurity levels
  • Batch testing data for critical parameters
  • Pricing relative to quality level and properties
  • Lead time and delivery schedules
Superalloy Powder

Installing Superalloy Powder Processing Equipment

Special precautions are needed when handling fine reactive superalloy powders to prevent contamination or explosions.

ActivityEquipment/Supplies Needed
Powder deliveryGlove boxes, sealed containers
Powder storageInert gas storage units, cabinets with argon/nitrogen
HandlingProtective apparel, face masks, gloves
SievingEnclosed sieves, cyclone sieving units
BlendingEnclosed tumble/drum blenders
Hopper loadingGlove box connections to printer hopper

All powder handling systems should be oxygen-free and moisture-free to prevent contamination. Protective apparel and masks should be worn to avoid inhaling fine powder. Proper grounding must be ensured to prevent static charge buildup.

Best Practices for Operating Superalloy Powder Printers

Achieving defect-free prints with superalloy powder requires optimizing the entire AM workflow:

StageBest Practices
Superalloy powderUse fresh powder with ideal size distribution and morphology
Printer setupCalibrate laser power, scan paths, recoating mechanism. Maintain inert gas levels.
Software settingsOptimize process parameters – layer height, scan patterns, speeds
Print jobAdjust orientation and supports. Monitor powder bed, laser paths and temperature.
Post-processingStress relief, Hot Isostatic Pressing, heat treatment, HIP and machining to improve properties

Critical factors are an optimal powder bed, calibrated energy input, and minimizing internal stresses. Matching software parameters to alloy type and target properties is key. Careful thermal post-processing enhances final part performance.

Maintaining Superalloy Powder Printers

Regular preventive maintenance of key components is essential for reliable operation and maximum printer uptime.

SystemMaintenance TasksSchedule
Powder deliveryInspect piston seals, replace worn sealsMonthly
Recoating bladesClean, replace worn partsWeekly
Laser opticsClean lenses, mirror, maintain alignmentBefore each production build
Beam delivery systemCheck galvanometers, focus lens motionMonthly or per 500 hours
ChambersSeal checks, gas leak testsMonthly or per 100 hours
Sintering systemCheck heating elements, thermocouplesMonthly or per 500 hours
Gas deliveryMonitor pressure gauges and flow metersDaily
Vacuum systemInspect pumps, seals and linesMonthly or per 500 hours

Strict adherence to OEM maintenance schedules is vital for reliable operation and best print quality over time.

How to Select a Superalloy Powder Supplier

Choosing the right superalloy powder supplier is crucial for manufacturing high-quality components via metal additive manufacturing. Here are key factors to consider:

  • Range of alloy varieties available
  • Consistent chemical composition from batch-to-batch
  • Controllable particle size distribution based on nominal range
  • Spherical morphology and flowability
  • Low oxygen/nitrogen impurity levels
  • Apparent density and hall flow rates as per specifications
  • Detailed certificate of analysis for each powder lot
  • Capability to customize alloys and particle size distribution
  • Competitive pricing relative to quality level
  • Reputation, experience, and customer reviews
  • Lead time and delivery reliability
  • Response to technical queries and support

Samples builds to assess powder performance first-hand are recommended. Prioritize quality consistency over lowest pricing to avoid print defects.

Advantages of Superalloy Powder

Superalloy powder offers unique benefits driving its expanded use for critical metal AM components:

  • Retains high strength and modulus above 1000°C
  • Resists creep deformation under load at high temperatures
  • Withstands thermal fatigue and dynamic stresses
  • Excellent oxidation and corrosion resistance
  • Lower coefficient of thermal expansion than steels
  • Fine microstructures from rapid solidification as powder
  • Achieves complex shapes unfeasible by casting/machining methods
  • Reduces raw material waste relative to subtractive methods
  • Allows weight and performance optimization of designs
  • Powder bed fusion AM enables complex passageways and cooling channels

The combination of outstanding mechanical properties at extreme environments, shape complexity, and minimized raw material waste make superalloys ideal for production parts via powder bed fusion additive manufacturing.

Limitations of Superalloy Powder

While superalloys deliver unmatched performance, certain limitations need consideration:

  • Very high cost of raw superalloy powder material
  • Limited number of qualified suppliers for aerospace-grade powder
  • Variable powder composition, size distribution, and flow characteristics
  • High sensitivity of properties to impurities and defects
  • Tendency for porosity in as-printed components
  • Requirement of HIP and heat treatment for requisite properties
  • Anisotropy and internal stresses add machining requirements
  • High manual labor requirement for support removal
  • Limited sizes for powder bed fusion, typically under 500 mm
  • Challenge in achieving tight dimensional tolerances in AM parts

The high cost of quality superalloy powder combined with additional post-processing are key limitations for wider adoption currently.

Superalloy Powder vs Traditional Manufacturing

Here is a comparison between using superalloy powder for AM vs conventional casting/forging methods:

FactorSuperalloy powder AMCasting/forging
Raw material wasteVery low, only requires amount of powder to build partHigh material losses from machining, shaping steps
Cost per partHigher, expensive powder plus multiple post-processing stepsLower due to economies of scale
Lead timeLonger due to post-processing requirementsShorter, established industrial processes
Value gainDesign freedom, weight reduction, performance gainsMature technologies, predictable output
Quality controlCritical assessment needed of powder and as-printed partsCertified materials, validated processes
Supply chain maturityStill evolving with few qualified suppliersEstablished industry with certified suppliers
ApplicationsComplex parts, high performance, low volumesSimpler geometries, mass production

While powder AM enables breakthrough part designs and properties, conventional manufacturing still scores for supply chain maturity and per-part cost at production volumes. Both will continue evolving.

Superalloy Powder


What are the most common types of superalloy powder used in AM?

The most widely used superalloy powders for additive manufacturing are nickel-based alloys like Inconel 718, Inconel 625, and cobalt-based alloys like Haynes 282.

What particle size distribution is optimal for AM?

A particle size range of 15-45 microns is recommended, though size requirements depend on the specific additive manufacturing process. For binder jetting, sub-20 micron average size is preferred.

What factors affect the costs of superalloy powder?

The costs depend primarily on the base alloying elements like nickel and cobalt. Tighter controls on powder size distribution, impurities, and quality result in higher costs as well. Minimum order volumes from suppliers also affect per-unit pricing.

Why is shape important for superalloy powders?

Spherical particle shape allows uniform powder spreading and densification during printing. Irregular shapes make powder flow difficult and create defects in printed components.

How are superalloy powders kept from oxidizing during storage and handling?

Superalloy powders are highly sensitive to oxidation and moisture absorption. All handling steps are performed in sealed gloveboxes under inert argon or nitrogen gas to prevent oxidation.

What post processing steps are used on AM superalloy components?

Most as-printed superalloy components undergo solution annealing followed by aging heat treatments to achieve optimal microstructures and mechanical properties comparable to wrought materials. Hot isostatic pressing (HIP) is also used to eliminate internal voids and porosity.

What are some examples of parts made from superalloys using AM?

Additive manufacturing with superalloys is used to make combustion chamber liners, fuel nozzles, turbine blades and vanes, blades and disks for jet engines, tubes for petrochemical furnaces, turbomachinery components, and lightweight structural parts for aerospace.

What AM technologies are used with superalloy powders?

The most common methods are powder bed fusion processes including selective laser melting (SLM), direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) and electron beam melting (EBM). Binder jetting is also emerging for making superalloy components.

How does superalloy powder AM compare with subtractive methods?

AM enables lighter, more complex part geometries unattainable by subtractive methods like machining. But subtractive techniques have more mature supply chains and lower costs per part at production volumes currently. Both continue advancing rapidly.

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