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Fehrmann Alloys Says High-Performing Metals Are Key to 3-D Printing

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Ferhmann Alloys’ AlMgty is used for color anodized components in metal 3-D printing.

Fehrmann combined its 125 years of casting know-how and 40 years of experience with high-performance aluminum alloys with Cremer’s international trade expertise and around 100 offices worldwide to redefine the future of 3-D printing. Last year, the companies brought their respective competencies together to form Fehrmann Alloys, a Hamburg, Germany-based full-service company that supports 3-D printing worldwide.

Fehrmann Alloys offers consulting, development, production and supply of high-performance metal powders with tailor-made properties as well as standard metal powders. “Fifteen years ago, we started trying to understand how additive manufacturing would disrupt the market and where you can use it,” Fehrmann CEO Henning Fehrmann says. “A couple years later, we learned materials would be the key driver and that made us quite happy because we know about the materials and development of them.”

Forty years ago, Fehrmann’s father, Uwe Fehrmann, invented an aluminum that is 300 percent more ductile than other standard alloys available today. Since then, with the cooperation of leading European research facilities such as the Helmholtz Centre for Materials Research, the Fraunhofer IAPT and DESY, the company says it has yielded many new alloys that set new market standards. 

This includes alloys suitable for 3-D printing, a technology the Fehrmann company has been working on since it was first introduced. Henning Fehrmann has been the speaker of the Hamburg 3-D printing Network with members like Airbus and SLM Solutions, which aims to expedite innovations in the field.  

“The combination of science, scientists and innovation-driven companies is the most effective way to realize rapid development at excellence level,” Fehrmann says. “We use not only high-tech experimental assemblies, but state-of-the-art technology and digital tools to be faster, more cost effective and find solutions and results that companies could not afford to do alone.”

Complexities of Material Development

Currently, there are only five aluminum alloys for additive manufacturing, while about 640 aluminum alloys are available in other production technologies. The reason is because material development is “not so easy and a highly complex topic,” Fehrmann notes. Metal development for additive manufacturing is even more complex.

“Material development is like cooking in terms of which ingredients in which quantities to use and how much salt or pepper to add, for example, to determine whether it takes or not,” Fehrmann explains. “When it comes to metal for additive manufacturing, we don’t only have parameters for developing the material itself, but we have parameters for powderizing the materials which changes the material, and lastly you have the printing process where a high voltage laser will influence the material and the performance of the produced part.”

Fehrmann Alloys’ vision is to achieve controlled production where the same material can be flexible on one side and firm on the other within the same part. Today, manufacturers need to use different materials and combine them to achieve such. “This is a challenge because if you can influence the performance of the material with the laser over the production itself, these are additional parameters to consider when developing materials.”

Worldwide Reach

Fehrmann says additive manufacturing will see a 20 percent growth rate per year for the next 10 years and a 50 percent growth rate for metal materials. Because of that, the company partnered with Cremer for its worldwide presence and expertise in the raw materials and minerals trade, including the relevant logistics, to form Fehrmann Alloys in November 2019. 

In the U.S. and Canada, Cremer’s subsidiary Possehl Erzkontor North America Inc., based in Cincinnati, takes care of all inquiries and other issues related to Fehrmann Alloys and its metal powders.

“We combined two family-owned hidden champions based in Germany that have strong products and skills, but we will not see a fast return on this joint venture,” Fehrmann says. “We need to take a long breath, but the market is sustainable and the technology shift irreversible. Establishing 3-D printing is a strategic decision without alternative. You have to invest in the market and that takes years, but at the end you will have a flexible, instant and self-sufficient production technology that saves time, cost, material, logistics, supply chain complexity and CO2 emissions.”

With 67 subsidiaries and 30 sales units throughout the world, Cremer brings a strong connection for marketing AlMgty, Fehrmann Alloys’ new alloy system. AlMgty is the company’s first high-performance aluminum alloy that can be used for metal additive manufacturing, sand casting, pressure casting and mold casting. AlMgty provides in a unique combination excellent ductility with high tensile and yield strength, and it is furthermore corrosion resistant and can be anodized even in color. 

Fehrmann Alloys’ first order for the new material came from Hamburg-based Ziegelmayer, a manufacturer of racing sailboats such as the Olympic 470 yacht. Fehrmann Alloys will reconstruct the rudder mounting for a yacht using additively manufactured AlMgty and its high-performance properties. Fehrmann says AlMgty’s high tensile strength while corrosion resistant convinced the boatyard that equips the world’s top sailors, including the medalists of the Olympic games.

“It’s not only about having a fantastic product — which we do have the best aluminum powder in the world currently — but also about being there for our customers to discuss with them new developments and technologies to help them out.” 

Sidebar: The Benefits of Additive Manufacturing

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Fehrmann CEO Henning Fehrmann says one of the benefits to 3-D printing that it allows manufacturers to reduce the complexity of the supply chain. “In the current situation now, where we are highly dependent on the supply chain that goes all over the globe, if one of the puzzle pieces fails to deliver, it has a great impact,” he adds. 

For example, if the Fehrmann company casts a component with 12 single steps until the product is finished, 3-D printing would reduce those steps to four. “It’s a reduction in complexity of 50 to 60 percent,” Fehrmann says. “This makes you faster and more independent, which will become a bigger part of the strategy in the future for most production companies.”

Additive manufacturing means adding material where needed, which will also allow producers to reduce waste. Fehrmann explains that manufacturers have the freedom to design parts bionically and lean, saving materials
and weight. 

While cost of 3-D printers can be a deterrent for manufacturers today, Fehrmann says the use of AlMgty and his other high-performance materials is the key to reduce the production costs. With prices comparable to standard aluminum, AlMgty leads to less material and, in consequence, cost reductions in material and production. He does anticipate the cost of printers to decline over time. 

“If the new technology gets established, economies of scale will take the cost down,” he adds. “We will see in the next 10 years a big decrease in cost, which will extend the use of 3-D printing.” 

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