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Journal of the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy

On-line version ISSN 2411-9717


BISSETT, H.; VAN DER WALT, I.J.; HAVENGA, J.L.  and  NEL, J.T.. Titanium and zirconium metal powder spheroidization by thermal plasma processes. J. S. Afr. Inst. Min. Metall. [online]. 2015, vol.115, n.10, pp. 937-942. ISSN 2411-9717.

New technologies used to manufacture high-quality components, such as direct laser sintering, require spherical powders of a narrow particle size distribution as this affects the packing density and sintering mechanism. The powder also has to be chemically pure as impurities such as H, O, C, N, and S causes brittleness, influence metal properties such as tensile strength, hardness, and ductility, and also increase surface tension during processing. Two new metal powder processes have been developed over the past few years. Necsa produces zirconium powders via a plasma process for use in the nuclear industry, and the CSIR produces titanium particles for use in the aerospace industry. Spheroidization and densification of these metal powders require re-melting of irregular shaped particles at high temperature and solidifying the resulting droplets by rapid quenching. Spherical metal powders can be obtained by various energy-intensive methods such as atomization of molten metal at high temperatures or rotating electrode methods. Rapid heating and cooling, which prevents contamination of the powder by impurities, is, however, difficult when using these methods for high-melting-point metals. For this reason plasma methods should be considered. Thermal plasmas, characterized by their extremely high temperatures (3000-10 000 K) and rapid heating and cooling rates (approx. 106 k/s) under oxidizing, reducing, or inert conditions, are suitable for spheroidization of metal powders with relatively high melting points. Thermal plasmas for this purpose can be produced by direct current (DC) plasma arc torches or radio frequency (RF) inductively coupled discharges. In order to obtain chemically pure spheroidized powder, plasma gases such as N2, H2, O2, and CH4 cannot be considered, while Ar, Ne, and He are suitable. Neon is, however, expensive, while helium ionizes easily and it is therefore difficult to obtain a thermal helium plasma at temperatures higher than 3000 K. Therefore argon should be used as plasma gas. Residence times of particles in the plasma region range from 5-20 ms, but this is usually sufficient as 7-8 ms is required for heating and melting of titanium or zirconium metal particles in the 30 μm size range at 3500 K. In this study the melting and spheriodization of titanium powders was investigated by DC non-transferred arc and RF induction plasma methods. The powders were characterized before and after plasma treatment by optical microscopy and scanning electron microscopy (SEM) to observe if any melting or spheroidization had occurred.

Keywords : plasma; zirconium; titanium; spheroidization.

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