Sustainable manufacturing with powder technology

Powder technology as a sustainable alternative to conventional manufacturing processes

Scarcity of raw materials and increasing environmental pollution pose major challenges to today's world. This makes the sustainable, resource-saving manufacture of products all the more important. The entire product life cycle must be considered: From design through manufacturing and logistics to recycling. Powder technology offers the best prerequisites here. It allows material and energy consumption to be significantly reduced and raw materials to be easily recycled. Fraunhofer IFAM has been working on various processes of powder technology for many years. 


Powder technology helps to conserve resources and save energy

In view of the globally agreed climate and sustainability targets, the demand for sustainable manufacturing is becoming ever greater. Sustainable manufacturing means producing products using economically viable processes, minimizing the negative impact on the environment, and at the same time conserving energy and natural resources. For this reason, the current focus in research and development is also strongly on the topic of sustainability: research into alternative materials and their reusability, or the development of new software packages for simulating processes are just two examples. Powder technology, on the other hand, already offers many prerequisites for the sustainable manufacture of products:

Resource efficiency in production

When using powder technology processes such as 3D printing, there is very little material waste, which at the same time leads to a correspondingly high utilization or conversion of materials from the powder form into the component. However, more traditional processes such as powder injection molding or extrusion also allow direct recycling of scrap parts after molding, so there is hardly any material waste. How the direct feeding of already processed material specifically affects the processes and products is one aspect we are looking at.

We are also developing and evaluating new materials and their shaping, for example to produce components for energy technology. Magnetocaloric materials are worth mentioning in this context, as they enable new concepts of thermal management without using compressor technology and thus often environmentally harmful fluids.

Material recycling of metals and magnets for powder production

Recycled materials, for example return components from vehicles or old magnets, can be used as raw materials for powders. This is a trend that absolutely must be strengthened in the course of the shortage of raw materials and the sometimes appalling conditions in the extraction of raw materials. In addition, dependencies on local raw material sources can be reduced in this way. The fact that materials from recycling streams may have different properties from primary materials is an important point that we take into account during processing in order to be able to reliably meet the quality requirements for products.

Additive manufacturing with metal powders for production on demand

Flexible production processes are increasingly making it possible to manufacture demand goods on site or closer to the point of use, thus reducing global transportation and the associated environmental damage, among other things. Thus, additive manufacturing (3D printing) is playing an increasingly important role in making this very thing possible. An in-depth understanding of the processes themselves, as well as the factors influencing the robustness of the processes, are therefore the focus of the Powder Technology department.

Digitized processes for efficient manufacturing and higher component quality

Through constantly increasing knowledge of the interrelationships within manufacturing processes and the use of modern digitization approaches, processes are becoming more and more efficient and lead to a reduction in scrap, resulting in better use of energy and materials. For this reason, one focus of Powder Technology in the coming years will be on process digitization itself, on the one hand, and on the other hand, on the integration of new analytical methods in order to generate more relevant data, which will make it possible to establish reliable correlations between process data and component qualities.

Material simulation and simulation of processes in powder technology

The development of new and ever-improving simulation tools makes it possible to optimize processes in a targeted manner even before the start of the process, but also during the process itself. With the help of these tools, new materials, the influence of environmental factors or the behavior of a product can first be tested in the virtual world. In the field of powder technology, for example, mold filling simulations for MIM or PIM materials or, in the future, sinter simulations can be realized.


Dr. Sebastian Boris Hein is head of the "Powder Technology" department at Fraunhofer IFAM. The research work of the department covers the process understanding from powder to component with the issues around material, shaping and tolerances, process reliability, and specific component requirements. Throughout the entire process chain, powder technology offers many possibilities for sustainably shaping the properties of materials, the shape and functions of a component, and ultimately a product.