LIBERTY Powder Metals will produce a range of stainless steel and nickel superalloy powders for precision components in demanding sectors such as automotive, aerospace and engineering, the premium end of the global powder metals market already worth more than £2bn a year.

The cutting-edge powder production process cuts carbon emissions by 85% compared with the traditional steel route (blast furnaces), part of LIBERTY Steel’s CN30 strategy that will make the company carbon neutral by 2030.

Minute spherical powder particles are processed to the highest specifications in a vacuum induction argon gas atomiser, the only one of this kind in the UK, with a unique anti-satellite facility to increase productivity.

The landmark is the culmination of a two-year collaboration with the Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen and the Combined Authority, which provided £4.6mn of funding, and the Materials Processing Institute, which housed the atomiser beside its own research facilities. Atomising Systems Ltd and Consarc Engineering have worked closely on equipment design.

LIBERTY Powder Metals’ General Manager, Simon Pike, said: “This has been a great achievement amid unprecedented challenges from the Covid pandemic. The resolve and resilience of our team and our contractors to overcome supply chain constraints has been invaluable.

“Teesside is leading the UK drive towards advanced manufacturing, creating a new generation of skilled jobs in an industry that has deep local roots. The region’s manufacturing sector has a bright future, bringing a high-tech approach to metal manufacture and supporting the UK supply chain.”

Mayor Houchen said: “LIBERTY’s new powder metals facility is a great example of how advanced manufacturing is reinvigorating industry in Teesside and bringing with it the good-quality well-paid jobs we all want to see come to Teesside, Darlington and Hartlepool.

“This is a major step forward for the project and the fact a global company as big as LIBERTY chose to bring this development to Teesside shows that we are a real magnet for R&D and foreign direct investment, because here on Teesside we have the skills and expertise companies like LIBERTY require.”

Installation and commissioning have successfully overcome significant challenges caused by the coronavirus pandemic, which has restricted the number of contractors able to work on site and impacted on the delivery of equipment.

Commissioning of the powder metals facility, known as an atomiser, includes a series of ‘acceptance melts’ which LIBERTY must perform before the plant is handed over for full operation. The atomiser allows LIBERTY to melt a range of defined chemistries and pour the liquid stream through an aperture, using inert gas to break this into fine droplets, which then solidify to create powder, secure and confined to avoid contamination from outside sources.

The powders undergo further processing including optimisation and characterisation before final tests and despatch to customers. The same post-atomisation processing activities are deployed for all metal powders in an extensive portfolio which includes aluminium, titanium and cobalt alloys.