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HIP technology revolutionises 3D production in aerospace and medical implants industries

HIP is a technology that is set to revolutionize the 3D printing market, which is in full expansion, having grown by 19.5% in 2021, and according to several studies, is expected to grow by around 17% per year until 2025.

“By applying HIP to metal parts manufactured with 3D printing we manage to eliminate any possible defects in parts destined for very demanding sectors such as space or prosthetics,” explains Rubén García, HIP Project Manager at HIPERBARIC.

HIP technology subjects components to 2,000 bar of pressure and 1,400°C of temperature to improve mechanical properties such as fatigue life, resilience or ductility. For high-performance parts made by additive manufacturing or 3D printing, Hot Isostatic Pressing (HIP) brings excellent benefits by eliminating the porosity of components, particularly crucial for those intended for the healthcare and aerospace industries.

Burgos-based Hiperbaric is the only Spanish company that manufactures HIP equipment. Since 1999, Hiperbaric has been designing, manufacturing and marketing high-pressure industrial technology and products. From 2024 to 2027, Hiperbaric aims to place three to five of its HIP units per year onto the market, which would represent more than 6% of the company’s sales, and exceed 10 million EUR in annual sales from 2027 onwards.

HIP has enormous potential as an advanced manufacturing technology,” says Iñigo Iturriza, director of Materials and Additive Manufacturing at CEIT, one of the pioneering entities in Spain in the use of this technology thanks to its innovations in 3D printing materials.

In 2021, Hiperbaric opened the first HIP Innovation Center in Burgos, the first in southern Europe, where several researchers test new material developments using HIP and explore new opportunities that this technology could bring to additive manufacturing, even deploying AM for its own machines.

“Because we are so involved in the world of HIP and additive manufacturing, we have become a user of 3D printing to make our HIP equipment,” says García, who goes on to explain the advantages afforded by the technology. “In the HIP machine we are building now, we have been able to design an additive manufacturing heat exchanger that cools the contents of the load very quickly.”

Elimination of defects and lighter designs

In addition to improving mechanical properties, HIP increases fatigue strength and results in fine-grained microstructure parts with good mechanical properties. This technology eliminates porosity and other internal defects, gives greater consistency to high-performance materials, enables the recovery of defective parts and makes lighter and lighter weight designs possible.

In addition, it has a valuable sustainable component because it reduces material consumption and costs associated with quality control by implementing statistical control by non-destructive testing (NDT), reducing the number of units that need to be tested.

“Nowadays all aeronautical companies are making efforts to reduce weight in airplanes because this reduces the tons of CO2 they emit into the atmosphere,” adds García. As he explains, 3D printing affords the sector ‘absolute freedom of geometric design’, which makes it possible to design parts that were previously impossible, such as skeletal geometries, with new functionalities or hollowed insides. 

“3D printing allows you to optimize parts in such a way that with 60% of the weight they give you the same function. In addition, it also reduces waste because you only use the precise material to manufacture the part,” García explains, adding that the aeronautical sector is very guarantee-oriented and HIP is a life insurance for them because “if they could not inspect the parts, perhaps they would not be encouraged to use them because it is difficult to guarantee that they will not have defects”.

In this sense, Hiperbaric has an Industrial R&D Collaboration Alliance with Aenium, an engineering company specialized in Additive Manufacturing technologies and complex material sciences, with whom it is using HIP technology to post-process high value-added complex metals and alloys and new materials for the aeronautical sector.

Among the most widely used materials in the aeronautics industry are Nickel-based superalloys such as Inconel (IN718/IN625), low weight Titanium alloys (Ti64, TiAl) or copper-chromium-niobium alloy developed by NASA: GRCop-42.

Start in the nuclear power industry

HIP technology began to be developed in the 1950s in the U.S. nuclear power industry for joining similar materials that could not be welded because they had different properties, but were joined by hot-pressed diffusion bonding. Since then, applications have been developed for manufacturing processes such as casting or powder metallurgy, among others, all the way to 3D manufacturing.

“We believe that in additive manufacturing any part that is going to be subjected to a lot of stress from a mechanical point of view will have HIP associated with it,” adds García.

HIP is a technology widely used in the automotive sector, especially in sports cars and Formula 1 teams, and it still has a long way to go for ceramic bearing balls for the aeronautical sector and for electric cars, and lenses for telescopes or technical ceramic parts for satellites.

“In space, there are very strong thermal variations, and the ceramic parts can withstand them very well,” says García.

HIP, state-of-the-art technology for the medical prosthetic sector

The world market for medical implants has experienced significant growth over the last few decades and is expected to continue to increase in the coming years. Moreover, this market is set to undergo a major revolution due to the customization possibilities enabled by new technologies such as additive manufacturing. Implants will adapt perfectly to the anatomy of each patient, increasing the success of surgeries and reducing the need for rehabilitation.

The medical implant sector benefits fully from the design freedom offered by additive manufacturing thanks to HIP. This is the case of Optimus 3D, an engineering company specializing in additive manufacturing technologies, which uses Hiperbaric’s HIP technology to improve fatigue life by eliminating internal defects and pores that could lead to the appearance and propagation of cracks that would eventually cause the implant to break. In some cases they have managed to extend the life of the implant up to 33 times. The manufacture of hip implants, knee implants, or dental implants are among the classic applications of HIP for this sector.

Another classic application is found in ‘blowing’ ceramic parts for industrial applications, as performed by Nanoker, a manufacturer of advanced technical and nanocomposite ceramic products and solutions for various high-end applications, which also uses HIP technology.

Hiperbaric’s R&D applied to HIP technology

Hiperbaric’s extensive know-how developed over the past 20 years has enabled the company to design and develop HIP technology in the framework of different research projects.

One of these is the 2.09 million EUR SmartMat project for research into new technologies for the production of advanced materials. Another area of research is XtremHIP, for the design of high-performance HIP equipment, with operations based on disruptive technologies, focused on the most demanding applications in the fields of additive manufacturing, advanced materials and new applications, which reached 1.2 million EUR.

Both projects have been financed by the Institute for Business Competitiveness (ICE), of the Castilla y León Regional Government, and the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) – A way of doing Europe.

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