Method of producing parts by selective beam interaction of powder with gas phase reactant
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A method and apparatus for selectively sintering a layer of powder to produce a part comprising a plurality of sintered layers. The apparatus includes a computer controlling a laser to direct the laser energy onto each layer of the powder to produce a sintered mass corresponding to a cross-section of the part. For each cross-section, the aim of the laser beam is scanned over a layer of powder and the beam is switched on to sinter only the powder within the boundaries of the cross-section. Powder is applied and successive layers sintered until a completed part is formed. Also disclosed is a method of forming a part by interaction of material in the powder layer with reactants in the surrounding atmosphere, at locations of the powder irradiated by the energy, or laser, beam. The reaction may be nitridation, oxidation or carburization of the powder, with the product being a chemical compound of one or more constituents in the powder with one or more gases in the atmosphere. Alternatively, reduction of the powder may be so enabled by the energy beam so that a metallic phase product is formed at the irradiated locations. Particular benefits of the invention include the densification of the material of the part as a result of the reaction, and the ability to form high temperature materials by way of a relatively low temperature process.