Apr 28, 2016 | By Benedict

A team of researchers at the University of Melbourne has created two 3D printed superconducting aluminum microwave cavities in order to test their electrical properties. Results showed comparable superconductivity between 3D printed and non-printed cavities.

The two 3D printed cavities

3D printing has, for several years now, been used across a number of industries for the purpose of rapid prototyping. However, as SLS, SLM, and DMLS 3D printers become more advanced and reliable, many manufacturers are starting to use additive manufacturing technology to create end-use metal parts. To do this with confidence, such manufacturers have had to perform extremely rigorous tests on those 3D printed parts, to ensure that their mechanical properties are fully up-to-scratch. Rarely, however, do manufacturers need to perform such rigorous tests concerning the electrical properties of 3D printed metal parts.

The scarcity of information in this area prompted a team of researchers, led by Dr. Daniel L. Creedon, a physicist at the University of Melbourne, to investigate the superconductivity of 3D printed aluminum microwave cavities. Such cavities are incredibly important for scientific research, as they can “store” and conserve the energy of microwaves, allowing them to resonate through interaction with electrons of the cavity surface material. The resonating microwaves stored within the cavity can then be used to accelerate charged particles inside particle accelerators, detect motion, measure the speed of light, and more besides.

Since the resistance of a cavity’s material is integral to its performance—the closer to zero resistance, the better—3D printing may not seem like the ideal candidate for creating them, given the tendency of the process to produce rough surface textures. Traditionally, however, building a superconducting microwave cavity has been an expensive and time-consuming process. Creedon and his team wanted to see if 3D printing could be used to reduce that time and cost, without reducing the performance of the cavity.

Superconducting microwave cavities are usually built from standard industrial aluminum designated Al-6061. To create a 3D printed cavity, however, the Melbourne researchers had to use an aluminum powder suitable for selective laser melting on a Realizer SLM 100 3D printer. In this study, the researchers used Al-12Si alloy, which consists of 12% silicon (compared to the 0.8% found in Al-6061) but contains smaller quantities of iron, copper, and magnesium than Al-6061. Creedon and co speculated that these material differences could affect the performance of a 3D printed cavity, but conducted a controlled experiment to find out.

CAD design for a typical superconducting microwave cavity

Interestingly, the researchers found the performance of the 3D printed cavities to be comparable to that of the Al-6061 model. The 3D printed cavities became superconducting at the expected temperature of 1.2 Kelvin, and demonstrated similar electrical properties to those of the Al-6061 cavity. One of the two 3D printed cavities was selected for “annealing”: the researchers polished the inside of the cavity before heating it to 700K for four hours to drive out silicon from the material. This process improved the Q-factor of the 3D printed cavity by a factor of two.

The research demonstrates that 3D printed microwave cavities could perform at a workable level, and could be used as a cheaper and more convenient alternative to traditionally made aluminum models. The team suggests that a purer aluminum powder could be used to give even better results, and that cavities with complex internal geometries could also be 3D printed to improve performance.

The team’s research paper, titled “A 3D Printed Superconducting Aluminium Microwave Cavity,” is available to download. Other authors on the paper were Maxim Goryachev, Nikita Kostylev, Tim Sercombe, and Michael E. Tobar.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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