Booming demand for aircraft and power generation plants is fueling higher requirements for a specialized investment casting process that creates complex hollow internal shapes. Use of molded ceramic cores allows turbine engine blades and vanes to be cast to size with complex cooling passages, permitting engines to operate at higher temperatures with greater efficiency. GE Aviation has a record number of engines on order through 2012, its third record year in a row. The cores are also used for turbines in natural gas power generation plants.
One of the beneficiaries is a company called Certech, which is the largest independent producer of ceramic cores for investment casting. Technology growth is in materials development. “We’re always looking for a better mousetrap to give a better yield to the customer,” says Michael Kasberg, vice president and general manager of Certech. “When they pour metal around our parts sometimes they want to pour hotter metal. As a result you need a ceramic that won’t melt when it sees a higher temperature. “
These new 3D-printing technologies and printers include some that are truly boundary-breaking: a sophisticated new sub-$10,000, 10-plus materials bioprinter, the first industrial-strength silicone 3D-printing service, and a clever twist on 3D printing and thermoforming for making high-quality realistic models.
Using simulation to guide the drafting process can speed up the design and production of 3D-printed nanostructures, reduce errors, and even make it possible to scale up the structures. Oak Ridge National Laboratory has developed a model that does this.
Engineers need workhorse materials with beefy mechanical properties for industrial designs made with 3D printing. Very few have been designed from the ground up for additive manufacturing, but that picture is beginning to change.
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