There’s been quite a bit of talk about steel in the 3D printing world lately. It’s not among the most common 3D printing materials yet, but its profile and potential are rising as companies and research institutions work to develop 3D printable versions of it. Just last week, the University of Pittsburgh received an award to begin developing steel 3D printing materials, particularly for the US Navy, which requires tough, durable materials that can hold up in a harsh sea environment. For those requirements, it’s hard to beat steel.

Tool steel is especially attractive for manufacturing; as its name suggests, it’s well-suited to making tools. It’s a particularly hard material with high tolerance to heat and abrasion, and is available in multiple grades to fit a variety of applications. It’s not surprising that it should be a highly desirable material for additive manufacturing, and there’s been a lot of demand for it, as Markforged CEO Greg Mark pointed out in a recent interview. Markforged will be developing tool steel materials for its Metal X 3D printer, and today NanoSteel announced that it is launching a new 3D printable tool steel material – the company’s first material for laser powder bed fusion after its successful development of a portfolio of materials for binder jet printing.

BLDRmetal L-40 is a case-hardening steel powder with high levels of hardness and ductility: it offers a case hardness of >70HRC and 10%+ core elongation. It’s easy to 3D print, making it an attractive alternative to more difficult-to-print tool steels such as H13, and according to NanoSteel, it outperforms M300 maraging steel. Designed for parts such as tools, dies, gears and bearings, BLDRmetal L-40 proved its capabilities when it was used to 3D print an 8-inch roll thread die set, which outperformed dies machined from D2 and M2 tool steels.

“We tried nearly every combination of material and conventional CNC machining process to create our dual-thread die sets, none of which could cut or grind the complicated dual-thread geometry,” said Mark Doll, President and CEO of Perfect Lock Bolt America Inc., the only manufacturer of dual-thread fasteners in North America that are resistant to self-loosening. “The NanoSteel solution delivers exactly what we are looking for, including excellent surface finish, flexibility, as well as strength and hardness for maximum die life. This is a welcomed technological innovation to the fastener industry. We have been pleased with our testing and are slated to start production this year.”

NanoSteel developed the new material through rapid iterative development at 3D printing service provider CFK GmbH.

“For us, the most important attributes of NanoSteel’s BLDRmetal™ L-40 are that it is easily implemented and creates crack-free high hardness components, which sets it apart from the many other tool steels we have tested,” said Dr-Ing. Christoph Over, CEO at CFK. “We are proud to be a preferred printing service provider for NanoSteel, which will allow us to continue to offer the most valuable products to our customers.”

“Launching BLDRmetal™ L-40 after successfully producing the roll thread dies ensures the commercial viability of the new alloy for customers investigating the use of additive manufacturing,” added Harald Lemke, Vice President and General Manager of NanoSteel Engineered Powders. “We don’t stop at material design, but create joint solutions with our customers, facilitating the process from material selection and prototyping to fully qualified production parts.”

As tool steel becomes a viable option for additive manufacturing, advanced geometries with high strength and desirable industrial capabilities are set to become more accessible. The potential for 3D printed tool steel, particularly with what NanoSteel refers to as “easy printability on standard equipment,” will be a big one to watch in the near future. Discuss in the NanoSteel forum at 3DPB.com.

 

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