When it comes to lightweight materials that provide superior strength, there are only a handful of options to choose from. One example would be carbon fiber, which is used in the manufacturing of all sorts of products, from car parts, to hockey sticks, tennis rackets, and even large aircraft. However, now that there are new means of manufacturing available, there are now ways to create objects using traditional materials that can provide that same superior strength-to-weight ratio we see with these more advanced materials. 3D printing is one means by which designers, developers, architects, and manufacturers are discovering new ways of providing more sophisticated designs which do not change the physical properties of the materials they use, but instead provide more advanced end-product properties.
These more advanced end-product properties include objects and parts of objects which can bear more weight, with less materials use and a reduction in their own weight. This is done by creating unique ways of laying materials out, using computers to help with design.
One man, named Dahlon P Lyles, a Research Assistant and Lab Technician at Purdue University, and an Associate Engineer at 3rd Dimension Industrial 3D Printing, decided to create a proof of concept for an aluminum 3D printed lattice structure. As we know, lattice structures have been shown to provide increased strength while reducing material use and weight.
“We wanted to prove that we could design the part, print it, and test it for consistency,” Lyles tells 3DPrint.com. “I was looking at finding ways to create a filler space in medical implant[s] to lower the weight without sacrificing significant mechanical strengths. In my research I came upon information about metal foam and structural geometry. [I] dug deeper and decided to try and make it. This structure has a lot of uses; we’ve been looking at sandwiching and reinforcement of ceramics lately, but this is more of a personal side project.”
To create this exciting 3D printed piece, Lyles used his company’s ProX 200 3D printer by 3D Systems. It was filled with AlSi12, which is an aluminum alloy. The results were a 24mm cube weighing just 3.9g. The structure was designed by Lyles himself, using SolidWorks.
“Basically I designed the shape then created rails that followed the perimeter of the body,” he explained. “I’m going to sit down over Christmas and come up with a huge pile of different lattice styles to test out.”
First Lyles and his team tested the strength of their freshly printed aluminum lattice by having a full grown man, weighing 75kg (appox. 165 lbs) stand on it. After several attempts at gaining his balance on the small object, and crushing portions of the outside of the object due to unbalanced loads, he successfully stood, completely supported by the printed object.
The team then elected to try and see just how much weight the lattice would hold, so they 3D printed three more lattices and performed a crush test. The end results showed that the lattice was capable of holding just about 900 lbs (408 kg) before its structure could no longer hold up. Not bad for a 3.9g (0.008 lbs) cube. If my calculations are correct, this little cube was able to hold an incredible 104,615 times its weight. Without a doubt there could be hundreds or even thousands of uses for lattices such as this for designing and engineering a whole range of products and architectural designs.
What do you think about the potential 3D printed lattices like the one created by Lyles and his team could have within engineering and design fields? Discuss in the 3D Printed Aluminum Lattice forum thread on 3DPB.com.