Dec 11, 2018 | By Cameron

3D printed collimators are expanding the use of neutron scattering instruments at the Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL). Neutron scattering techniques provide tools for analyzing the molecular structures and dynamics of materials, and collimators are devices used in the instrument to direct the neutrons at the desired sample while also isolating the sample from its environment.

Bianca Haberl, coordinator of high-pressure experiments conducted at ORNL’s Neutron Sciences Directorate, explains, “You have your sample, and you use these incident beam collimators to make sure you only look at the sample. They make sure you only see the parts you want to see rather than the big lumps of metal around it that you don’t care about.”

Collimators for neutron scattering are usually made from plates of boron carbide that are cut to shape and then attached together with a reaction bonding method; it’s an arduous and expensive process. And making complex shapes is sometimes not even an option. To top it all off, collimators can run researchers and engineers up to $2,000. For these reasons, a single collimator is often used for a neutron scattering instrument, impeding the quality and range of available experimentation.

“Before, even if we knew a collimator could be shaped a certain way to make an experiment work, there wasn’t any way to manufacture it. Now if a researcher comes and you realize the experiment doesn’t quite work, you could say ‘let’s design a collimator,’ send it to print, and make the experiment work, or even work a lot better,” said Haberl. Her idea to 3D print collimators resulted in a more customizable component that can be produced the same day at a cost that’s 66 times cheaper than the conventional method, a measly $30.

ORNL’s Jamie Molaison designed the prototype collimators and Amy Elliott, the principal investigator for binder-jet printing at DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL, helped make them a reality, commenting, “Just like you would print ink on a piece of paper, we print glue into this layer of powdered material. The technology allows us to work with boron carbide and many other ceramics, which are difficult to fuse with other additive manufacturing methods.” The level of detail possible is increased with the powder 3D printing method, enhancing researchers ability to prevent neutron leakage and make precise measurements.

The method can also work with enriched boron carbide, which absorbs neutrons even better than the standard version. And with such a staggering cost difference, researchers can now cater collimators to specific experiments. “Before, you’d have one collimator for your one instrument,” said Elliott. “Now with 3D printing, since the cost is so low and the turnaround is so small, you could have one collimator per experiment.” The team is now working with ORNL’s in-house computing resource, the Compute and Data Environment for Science, to develop computer simulations that will guide the design of collimators in a way that’s optimized for each experiment.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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