Metal additive manufacturing may be growing, but the number of metals and alloys that can be 3D printed with is still fairly limited. One material that isn’t seen frequently in additive manufacturing is steel, and that’s a disadvantage, as steel and its alloys are tough, strong, and versatile materials well-suited to harsh environments such as, for example, the sea. The US Navy has been exploring 3D printing for numerous applications, but it’s still held back from developments such as major structural ship components because most available additive manufacturing metals aren’t durable enough for the sea.
The University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering will be researching and developing next-generation metals, particularly steel, for additive manufacturing thanks to a three-year, $449,000 award from the Office of Naval Research (ONR). The research, “Integrated Computational Materials Design for Additive Manufacturing of High-Strength Steels used in Naval Environments,” is being led by Dr. Wei Xiong, assistant professor in the Swanson School’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science.
“There are several metals, from nickel alloys to aluminum and titanium, which are the foundation for AM production of complex parts with properties that could not be developed via traditional, or subtractive, manufacturing. However, many of these materials are not as strong or reliable in the harsh environment of the sea, and that’s a disadvantage for the Navy and other maritime agencies,” Dr. Xiong said. “Steel and its alloys are still the best, most versatile and structurally sound metals for naval construction and repair, and so our research will focus on developing new toolkits to leverage the use of new steel prototypes in AM that will benefit the U.S. Navy.”
The research team also includes Drs. Esta Abelev and Susheng Tan, who will act as senior personnel supporting materials microstructure characterization and corrosion tests. The Physical Metallurgy and Materials Design Laboratory, led by Dr. Xiong, will focus on designing a new high-strength low-alloy steel that can be used in naval construction. The research will apply Integrated Computational Materials Engineering (ICME) tools to design the composition of the materials as well as optimizing it for direct metal laser sintering (DMLS). The researchers will also look at post-process optimization to further improve the materials’ corrosion resistance and mechanical properties.
“Additive manufacturing presents a transformative opportunity for the Navy and Department of Defense to develop complex structures that are stronger, more reliable and yet cost-effective,” Dr. Xiong said. “Through the integrated computational materials design, from metal development to production and final optimization, we believe we will design new types of steel that will greatly benefit the Navy and the women and men who serve.”
If the research is successful, it will present new material options not only for the naval industry but for other sectors that rely on durable, tough metals, such as automotive and aerospace. The metal additive manufacturing industry continues to advance and grow, and as materials become more diverse and widely available, we’ll begin to see new innovations on a widespread level across industries. Discuss in the University of Pittsburgh forum at 3DPB.com.[Source/Image: University of Pittsburgh]