Oct 19, 2015 | By Tess

We’ve heard of new materials being developed for 3D printing use in order to enhance the quality of additively manufactured products, but two researchers at the Missouri University of Science and Technology have been developing a way to use 3D printing technology in order to create wholly new materials.

Dr. Frank Liou and Dr. Jagannanthan Sarangapani, distinguished professors in Product Innovation and Creativity, and Electrical and Computer Engineering, respectively, have been working towards using cyber additive manufacturing technology in order to create new metal materials that possess stronger and lighter properties than existing metal materials. The process of manufacturing these metals involves additive manufacturing process modelling, sensor network, and seamless process integration.

The metal materials Liou and Sarangapani have been developing are Structural amorphous metals (SAMs), and they are made by using a laser to melt blown powder metal, which is then deposited layer by layer to manufacture a 3D printed object. The two researchers have been working on finding the correct cooling rate in order to make the metal materials amorphous, meaning randomly constructed at the cellular level, rather than their usual crystalline formation.

Dr. Drank Liou (right) with student

The appeal of making amorphous metals comes precisely from the randomized cellular composition. That is, the material, being made up of tiny fragments, like grains of sand, have a stronger, harder, and more fracture resilience than regular metals because of the lack of pattern in their composition, so to speak. While metals in their regular crystalline structure tend to break along lines of their cellular structure, the amorphous metals would have no pattern to break along. As Dr. Liou explains, “The smaller the grains, the stronger [the SAM] is.”

The hope is that it will be possible to create new materials with 10 times the strength of conventional metals, which would ultimately lower the amount of material actually needed to produce an object, the weight of the material, as well as production costs. Liou is confident this is where their research is heading. He adds, “If you can have the next breakthrough in materials, you can have a lot of changes.”

For their research, Liou and Sarangapani have been given a $146,758 grant from the National Science Foundation.

Liou has also been conducting research on functionally gradient materials (FGMs), which combine two metals that normally don’t fuse easily such as stainless steel and titanium or copper and steel. For this project, Liou has been working with Dr. Joseph Newkirk, an associate professor of materials science and engineering. Their work is being sponsored by NASA’s Langley Research Center in Virginia, which has interests in the developing technology.

FGMs in combining different types of metal, would result in new types of metals, possessing the traits and properties of both individual materials. In order to, for instance, create an object with copper on one side and titanium on the other, the metals would have to be combined and blended with other types of metal to “bridge the gap” so to speak. The new material, which would possess the qualities of both copper and titanium, could be useful for constructing such things as aircraft or spaceship parts.

Like the development of SAMs, Dr. Liou explains that for the FGMs it is also a matter of finding the correct cooling rate. He says, “It’s a race with the cooling rate. If you can be faster than the microstructure formation or the chemical reaction, you can fuse two metals together easily.”

The research conducted by Dr. Liou, Dr. Sarangapani, and Dr. Newkirk could mean exciting breakthroughs for 3D printing, as well as metal production. We look forward to reporting on further developments in their research.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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