Jul 13, 2018 | By Thomas

A team of researchers at the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering, Pennsylvania, USA, has been granted $1 million to advance design and manufacture of nuclear plant components via additive manufacturing. The award is part of the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Nuclear Energy’s Nuclear Energy Enabling Technologies (NEET) program.

Dr. To stands next to the EOS DMLS M290 in the Swanson School's ANSYS Additive Manufacturing Research Lab. Image credit: Swanson School of Engineering

Additive manufacturing process requires support structures to maintain the component’s structural integrity during printing. Unfortunately, removing these supports is not only expensive, but can also be difficult-to-impossible if the supports are located in the interior of the item. 3D printing technology has to date struggled to find application in the nuclear industry which requires the cost-effective manufacturing of complex components.

The novel research will be led by Albert To, associate professor of mechanical engineering and materials science (MEMS) at the Swanson School. Co-investigators include Wei Xiong, assistant professor of MEMS at Pitt, and Owen Hildreth, assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the Colorado School of Mines.

Cracking in the build resulting from excessive residual stress in the support structure from the laser powder bed additive manufacturing process. Image credit: Swanson School of Engineering

The team's primary goal will be to develop innovative dissolvable supports, greater topology optimization, and improved microstructure design. If successful, it has the potential to enable the production of state-of-the-art nuclear components at lower cost, with minimal distortion, and greater structural integrity.

“Many gaps still remain in the scientific understanding of additive manufacturing, most especially the optimization of the assembly process while reducing build failure and cost,” explained Drs. To and Xiong. “... By integrating dissolvable supports, topology optimization, microstructure design, we have an opportunity to drastically reduce post-processing costs for AM components, while ensuring manufacturability of designs with complex internal features like those needed in the nuclear industry.”

Failed build of a complex part due to excessive residual distortion from the laser powder bed additive manufacturing process. Image credit: Swanson School of Engineering

According to Hildreth, post-processing accounts for 30 to 70 percent of the cost of producing AM products, with support removal accounting for the majority of those costs. “Our dissolvable support technology will reduce manufacturing costs by 20 percent and improve manufacturing schedules by at least six months,” he explained.

“This work will help bring dissolvable supports to not just nuclear applications, but to the broader metal AM community so that costs can be significantly reduced. Metal AM is projected to be a $21.2 billion industry in five years, and these batch-processable dissolvable supports could save the industry $10 billion while also expanding design freedom and reducing post-processing machining.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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