Research Leads to New Developments in 3D Printing High-Strength Aluminum Alloys

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Engineers working for HRL laboratories successfully developed a way to 3D print high-strength aluminum alloys. This has paved the way toward manufacturing engineering grade alloys. Some of the largest industries that use these alloys are aerospace and automotive which have long sought a way to make these metals practical for use with additive manufacturing. This challenge has been solved thanks to the hard work done by the researchers. Their new method can even be used with other alloys such as high-strength steel and nickel based superalloys.

The team, which was led by engineers Hunter Martin and Brennan Yahata, published their developments in the journal Nature. Speaking on their research the team explained “We’re using a 70-year-old nucleation theory to solve a 100-year-old problem with a 21st century machine,” (http://bit.ly/2wBEDyf) which goes to show how new innovations to manufacturing technology are solving more than just productivity issues.

Typically additive manufacturing begins with alloy powders that are laid down in thin layers and heated with a laser to melt and solidify the multiple layers. When non weldable alloys are introduced to this process, the parts suffer severe cracking under the extreme heat of the laser. HRL has developed a nanoparticle functionalization technique which solves the issue by introducing the high-strength alloys with specially selected nanoparticles. This new powder is then fed into a 3D printer which layers the substance and a laser fuses each layer to build the final product. These nanoparticles prevent hot cracking and allow the material to retain its properties for the manufactured part.

Because additive manufacturing is so close to welding in many respects, the process made by HRL allows for non weldable alloys to be made weldable. The technique is able to be scaled to most operations and can be used with relatively low cost materials. “Our first goal was figuring out how to eliminate the hot cracking altogether. We sought to control microstructure and the solution should be something that naturally happens with the way this material solidifies,” (http://bit.ly/2wBEDyf) Martin said.

This new process is a monumental breakthrough for aerospace and automotive manufacturing. Being able to utilize the revolutionary technology developed by the talented engineers at HRL has the potential to greatly improve the speed and efficiency in which parts for planes and cars are made. The research also opens up opportunities to join metals that would have previously been unweldable or only available to companies that had the cash to burn on expensive processes. If you’d like to see the full report made drawn up by the team you can check it out here.

Sources:

www.engineering.com/DesignerEdge/DesignerEdgeArticles/ArticleID/15672/3D-Printing-High-Strength-Aluminum-for-Aircraft-and-Auto-Parts.aspx

www.nature.com/nature/journal/v549/n7672/full/nature23894.html