Feb 17, 2016 | By Alec

While the concept of metal 3D printing interests a lot of researchers and engineers, it’s practical application is still being limited by the number of materials the technology can be used on. Fortunately, new solutions and materials are being developed constantly, and a particularly promising breakthrough has just been announced by Japanese researchers from Hitachi and Tohoku University: a new manufacturing technique that enables the 3D printing of a high strength, corrosion resistant high entropy metal alloy. It’s results are excellent, with a trial production of complex shapes achieving 1.2 times the tensile strength of comparable production methods.

Hitachi, of course, is one of the largest businesses in the world, and are known for providing high quality solutions in a number of fields, from telecommunication systems, to electronic equipment, construction machinery and even automotive and railway systems. A company, in short, that knows its way around metal engineering. Together with researchers from Tohoku University, they have been working on ways to 3D print high entropy alloys since 2014, and have been very successful with a new material called HiPEACE. High entropy alloys (or HEAs) consist of two or more metal elements, and are currently very popular among engineers for their supposed unique properties, including light weight and high strength characteristics.

The only problem is that these materials can be difficult to work with, and were – until now – unsuitable for producing complex and homogeneous shapes. Because HEAs are combinations of various elements, uneven composition can occur – creating problems during casting. Fortunately, with this new Japanese 3D printing breakthrough, HEAs production suddenly becomes possible. Applying their technique in a trial production for complicated parts, the Japanese researchers have managed to create a component that is high in strength (1.2 times the tensile strength of comparable 3D printed parts) and is also very resistant to corrosion. Aside from its engineering advantages, this technique will also improve the durability of parts 3D printed in this material.

During that 3D printing test, the metal powder used had a layer thickness of about 70 μm. Spread out over the printbed, the material was irradiated with an electron beam and solidified conforming the predetermined shape. That process is repeated layer after layer like an ordinary metal 3D printing process, but the real secret is in the composite material and the electron beam. The intermetallic HiPEACE compound (featuring five or more metal elements) has a fast solidification rate because the powder is super fine, and is uniformly dispersed. More importantly, the pre-heating temperature was kept as low as possible. By thus increasing the difference between the pre-heating temperature and the melting temperature, the solidification rate was optimized, realizing a high tensile strength and the material’s corrosion resistant characteristics.

The researchers have already revealed that this technique can be used in a variety of industries, especially in those sectors requiring high quality and durable metal parts. Specifically, they referred to parts for chemical production plants, oil wells and even for gas drilling equipment – all environments where components are exposed to high corrosive substances and gasses. Before being used practically, however, they will need to further improve production techniques and the material’s properties. If you’re interested in this fascinating new 3D printing technique, you can check out the Hitachi/Tohoku team at TMS 2016 – which will be held until 18 February in Tennessee, USA. There, they will also reveal the results of an experiment in a practical environment.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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Yevgeni wrote at 2/20/2016 11:57:49 PM:

HEA were already successfully used in additive manufacturing before, there is nothing innovative or pioneering in this research... https://www.researchgate.net/publication/271140983_The_use_of_high-entropy_alloys_in_additive_manufacturing

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