Typically, metals are all composed of highly ordered, crystalline structures of atoms. While there are obvious uses and benefits of this type of atomic arrangement, there is a limit to how strong any metal is ultimately capable of being. However, an amorphous metal, or “metallic glass,” is a fully-solid metal material that has its atomic-scale structure completely disordered, similar to conventional glass. They are unlike the glass we typically use for our windows, but metallic glasses, thanks to their atomic structure, can be up to three times as strong as conventional metal alloys. They also offer electrical conductivity properties that far exceed those of traditional metal alloys. Until recently the only way to produce metallic glass was to rapidly cool metal before its solid-state crystalline structure could form, which meant that it was difficult to produce in large enough amounts to be widely adopted for industrial uses.
A Swedish startup named Exmet has partnered with materials company Heraeus Group on the development of a process to 3D print using amorphous metal components. The partnership is seeing success thanks to Heraeus’ expertise in the development of cutting edge manufacturing materials and Exmet’s 3D printing process knowledge and experience. With the addition of amorphous metal in a powder form to their extensive materials portfolio, Heraeus has now made available what is expected to be one of the most sought after group of 3D printing materials of the future. Virtually any metallic alloy can be produced as a metallic glass, each with a wide range of uses and potential applications that far exceed their traditional alloy forms. These metallic glass powders can be used in several powder-bed 3D printing systems.
“Amorphous metals will change our future. They possess a wide variety of previously incompatible characteristics: They are very strong and yet malleable, as well as harder and more corrosion-resistant than conventional metals. Together with Exmet, we intend to open up this new class of materials for industry and 3D printing. Particularly in additive manufacturing, it is crucial for the material and the manufacturing process to be perfectly matched in order to ensure the utmost consistency and quality,” head of 3D Printing at Heraeus New Businesses Tobias Caspari explained.
Amorphous metals are ideal next-generation materials for a large number of high-tech applications in multiple industries and markets. Objects made from an amorphous metal material are energy-absorbing and virtually scratch-proof, which lend themselves to everything from consumer electronics to nanoparticles to almost indestructible electronic components and even longer-lasting medical implants. Metallic glasses have a high resistance to water, making them essentially corrosion-proof, however they can be engineered to slowly dissolve inside the human body, making it an excellent material to 3D print bone scaffolds that will encourage new bone material to grow and replace the dissolving implant.
Because of the difficulty in producing amorphous metals, previously only small components like metallic ribbons, foils and wiring could be made. However now that amorphous metal 3D printing materials can be used in combination with industrial additive manufacturing processes like selective laser melting (SLM), a whole new generation of advanced parts with little to no limits on geometry or size are possible. The super strong metallic glass can be used as incredibly durable structural material for electronics or sensors, or made into parts that can stand up to a wide range of environmental conditions. The ability to 3D print using amorphous metals is as revolutionary an achievement as the development of 3D printable graphene materials. Discuss further in the 3D Printing With Amorphous Metals forum over at 3DPB.com.
“For fifty years the commercial success of amorphous metals has been held back by inadequate manufacturing methods. Now that changes. Exmet looks forward to cooperating with Heraeus as a competent partner with a worldwide network to help bring this disruptive new technology to the market,” says Exmet co-founder and CEO Mattias Unosson.