U.S. Army researchers have made use of a new laser technology to create additive manufactured (AM) metal parts from powder.
The new development could help soldiers 3D print reliable and ultra-strong metal parts to replace worn out machinery on the go.
“I think it’s going to really revolutionize logistics,” said Dr. Brandon McWilliams, a team lead in Army Research Laboratory’s (ARL) manufacturing science and technology branch.
“You can really reduce your logistics footprint. Instead of worrying about carrying a whole truckload, or convoys loads of spares, as long as you have raw materials and a printer, you can potentially make anything you need.”
The researchers are using an alloy originally developed by the U.S. Air Force to fuel their research.
The Army adapted the metal AF96 to powder form. This was done by using a method called Powder Bed Fusion which selectively melts the powder in a pattern using the printer’s laser.
The printer then coats the build plate with another layer of powder and the process is repeated until the part is complete.
“We’re able to print up parts with internal structures that they would not necessarily be able to create with that much dimensional accuracy where they try to use mill or machine part,” said Dr. Andelle Kudzal, a materials engineer on McWilliam’s team.
The ARL team contends that the steel alloy has amazing qualities and more importantly potential applications for ground vehicle replacement parts.
“This material that we’ve just printed and developed processing perimeters for is probably about 50 percent stronger than anything commercially available,” said McWilliams.
Integral to its adoption would be a positive certification by the army. By and large, the printed parts need to function in stressful environments, say for instance a battlefield.
The alloy was initially developed by the Air Force for bunker-busting bomb applications. They needed a metal that was very high-strength and high-hardness, but they also needed it to be economical.
“The nice thing about that for the Army is that it has wide ranging applications. We have interest from the ground combat vehicle community, so it could be used for replacement parts,” says McWilliams.
US Army photo-David McNally/ARL via Eurekalert