Engineers at the University of Exeter have devised a new method for making aircraft and automotive components for short money using additive manufacturing techniques (a frequent topic on our site) and aluminum powders.
Three-dimensional aluminum metal matrix composite components are made by mixing a combination of relatively inexpensive powders to cause a reaction and rapid solidification. This productes particles as small as 50nm to 100nm that are distributed uniformly throughout the composite and strengthen it. A reactive reinforcing material, such as iron oxide, also contributes to the composite's strength.
Liang Hao, a lecturer at the University of Exeter's College of Engineering, Mathematics, and Physical Sciences, and Sasan Dadbakhsh, a doctoral candidate there, developed the technique in the university's Centre for Additive Layer Manufacturing. They say the material and the manufacturing method can produce lightweight parts such as pistons, drive shafts, suspension components, and brake discs for cars and airplanes.
A metal part made with a complex internal structure demonstrates the University of Exeter's selective laser melting 3D production technology. (Source: University of Exeter)
The process can also produce parts with more complex geometries that can reduce structural weight. Such parts can be difficult or expensive to manufacture with traditional methods such as casting and mechanical alloying, rather than the laser sintering method made possible by mixing metal powders.
The researchers have dubbed the new additive manufacturing method selective laser melting. They say the laser technique for melting the powder mix is cheaper and more sustainable than other methods that form composites by blending fine powders directly. Making parts with laser-sintered powders can help save materials, energy, and cost when producing products in small volumes, including single copies, the researchers say.
The team has published its findings in the Journal of Alloys and Compounds. An article published this year in Advanced Engineering Materials detailing much of the findings is available here.
Great example of pushing the envelope with additive manufacturing technology. Would this be a method for producing one-off parts or as a replacement technique for pumping out commercial parts on a production scale?
Really fascinating stuff! I am quite sure that the laser method of "curing" the amalgamation of powders is perhaps the best at this time. I look forward to reading the details in the metallurgical journal to learn more.
Quite agree. This will get faster, cheaper and the build envelopes will grow.
The picture in the article gives the a nice illustration of the kind of formerly "impossible to manufacture" structures that can be created. Right now high demand applications like aerospace and auto racing, medical too, will push this forward.
From a design perspective the possibilities of combining this with FEA and/or CFD software is quite exciting. Could greatly reduce the trade-offs in a design.
I agree, it seems likely that this could be applied to higher volume manufacturing when the process has been refined. Although to date, AM techniques have at most produced low-volume parts, there are efforts afoot to make them capable of higher production volumes.
The technique may also have applications in the field of powder metals:
These are used in several different component production processes, one of which is laser sintering, although not the 3D printing kind. The ability to alloy metals by blending them in powder form, instead of via melting at a later stage of the production process, saves a lot in waste, among other benefits. This could be yet another way of making those components.
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