Many people may not know that the Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) is headquartered in Pittsburgh, so it is fitting that one of my alma maters, the University of Pittsburgh, just received a $503,000 grant to research how aluminum alloys behave during Metal Laser Sintering.  Benedict of explains...

3D printing with metals is a fascinating business, one which involves powders, large machines, and laser beams. Metal additive manufacturing processes such as selective laser melting (SLM), selective laser sintering (SLS), and direct metal laser sintering (DMLS) each use laser beams to fuse metal powders into 3D shapes. SLS and DMLS 3D printers heat the metal powders to a sufficient level so that they can fuse together at a molecular level, while SLM 3D printers go one step further, completely melting the metal powder before letting it solidify into the desired shape. All of these methods have been developed into highly effective additive manufacturing techniques, but a team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh wants to better understand how exactly metals behave during the SLM process and in similar laser-melting processes.

Dr. Jörg M.K. Wiezorek, the project's P.I., plans to evaluate how "microstructures form in metals and alloys during the solidification process which follows laser beam melting." Their research is important because metal printing processes can be very temperamental, sometimes failing to adequately bond which causes part fractures.

Hail Pitt!

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Inconel 625, a nickel-based alloy is said to be the first single metal alloy for 3D printing industrial applications at greater than 99 per cent density according to ExOne which creates the metal using its binder jetting technology.

Inconel 625 is commonly used for components in the aerospace, chemical and energy sectors, with applications including gas turbine blades, filtration and separation, heat exchanger and moulding processes. The metal is considered desirable thanks to its oxidation and corrosion-resistant qualities and its ability to retain its strength in extreme environments.  

The alloy, which was developed by ExMAL, ExOne's R&D arm, is scheduled to be released sometime in June.  This introduction supports ExOne's strategy of qualifying at least two new industrial materials each year.  Of particular interest, it has reportedly seen promising results in its attempts to develop a titanium-based material.



Lux Research reported that growth in the 3D printing market will likely reach $12 billion in 2015.

According to Lux's model, printers alone will be worth $3.2 billion, while $2 billion will represent formulated materials; $7 billion will come from the value of parts produced. "Consumer uses of 3D printing attract most of the headlines, but industrial uses, from molds and tooling to actual production parts, are quietly having the greatest impact," said Anthony Vicari, Lux Research Associate and the lead author of the report, How 3D Printing Adds Up: Emerging Materials, Processes, Applications, and Business Models.

But processing speed and material costs will likely slow adoption rates.  Lux observes that the "razor/blade" strategy is being employed by 3D printer companies that sell materials with mark ups of between 10 - 100 times.  While the prototyping market could absorb those costs - the design versatility and speed of additive manufactured prototypes offset material prices - printing parts (which are often already price sensitive) may not be feasible unless those components cannot be produced using traditional manufacturing.  And 3D printers' machine warranties make it difficult for owners to switch to lower priced alternatives.  Perhaps, as more OEMs are attracted to the industry, competition will result among material suppliers as well.