EOS’s New Aluminum is a Breakthrough for Metal 3D Printing

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EOS is rolling out Al5X1, a heat-treatable aluminum alloy boasting both high elongation and strength. It doesn’t require quenching, which is a real cost-saver. Skipping the hot isostatic pressing (HIP) step is another win for the pocketbook, given how expensive laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) machines are. EOS is betting that these cost savings will not only make this material a hit in the aerospace sector but also help it break into tougher markets like automotive and electronics. With a UTS of 410 MPa and 14% elongation, Al5X1 has the potential for wide-ranging and colorful applications.

Metal 3D Printing’s Limited History

For some time, the additive manufacturing (AM) industry was a Ti64 shop, churning out nearly all of its metal 3D-printed parts in titanium. Dental and orthopedic implants were the stars of the show. But then we started to lean heavily into Inconel—a material previously thought of as exotic—especially for a number of space and industrial applications. And then, out of the blue, folks began tinkering with aluminum. Kinda odd, if you ask me, considering aluminum is a big deal in aviation but has never been a headliner in our neck of the woods.

With AlSi10Mg, we found ourselves working with a kind of aluminum that was a big deal for 3D printing, but not for many other manufacturing areas. Then along came Scalmalloy, from AP Works, which seriously upped the game in terms of part properties. What’s more, folks discovered that cranking up the machine speed when working with aluminum could cut down on time and costs. Since then, a slew of different aluminum grades have entered the additive scene. While many are tailored for aerospace, some are gaining traction for end-use part production in a broader range of applications.

EOS’s New Aluminum Breakthrough

Al5X1 enhances the existing aluminum offerings with its versatile properties. Not only can this material undergo heat treatment, electropolishing, and anodization, but it also boasts inherent corrosion resistance that can be further improved. The capability for vivid anodization in a wide range of colors adds aesthetic appeal, while fewer processing steps and quick machine turnaround make it cost-effective. Given these characteristics, Al5X1 emerges as a strong contender for various applications, including bike components, drones, motorcycles, automobiles, antennas, and consumer goods such as headphones. Personally, I find the potential of this material incredibly exciting and have spent the day exploring product possibilities.

¨Since early 2023, we have been working to develop Al5X1 performance data and material allowables on behalf of our prime customers. Preliminary results are very promising, and we look forward to introducing Al5X1 across our thermodynamic product lines. Developing a higher performing aluminum alloy is of critical importance not only to us, but also to the industry as a whole,” Sintavia CEO Brian Neff said.

¨A combination of high strength and high elongation for an aluminum alloy is critical for manufacturers in industries like aerospace, but equally crucial is delivering the property combination at a reasonable cost. Also interesting is that since the material can be anodized, this makes it very attractive to OEMs in areas like consumer electronics who are seeking to produce different colored products to suite customers preferences, with the added bonus of corrosion resistance,” Dr. Ankit Saharan, Senior Manager of Metal Technology at EOS stated.

I’m incredibly excited about the potential of this material for creating 3D printed items like car switches and bike seat posts. My enthusiasm extends to car customization, specialized vehicle components, and innovative vehicle production. When Neff mentioned thermodynamic products, it solidified my belief that high-end manufacturers will be particularly interested in these capabilities.

For Sintavia, this translates into the production of highly complex components, such as heat exchangers, designed for defense, space, and aviation sectors. The company already specializes in advanced heat management solutions for demanding defense contractors. While it’s amusing to imagine Sintavia CEO Brian Neff deliberating over color choices for Lockheed, it’s likely that factors such as improved electrical isolation and surface emissivity take precedence for the company.

The application of 3D printing to heat exchangers represents a monumental opportunity. Not only can their performance be enhanced, but their mass can also be reduced. The significance of complex heat exchangers, like shell tube and fin types, to defense and space applications is often underestimated. Given these applications and the broader potential in industrial production, this material is a valuable addition to our arsenal.

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