Metal additive manufacturing can produce a wide range of metals, but additive manufacturing with aluminum is used to develop parts specifically for the aerospace and automotive industries. This article explores production methods, benefits, and applications.
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Three-dimensional (3D) printing (also known as additive manufacturing) produces parts from digital models using a layer-by-layer material building approach. 3D printing is widely used in the production of polymers, metals, concrete and hydrogels.
In particular, metal additive manufacturing has attracted considerable attention due to its advantages over conventional manufacturing methods such as casting, forming and machining.
Metal additive manufacturing is used in the aerospace, oil and gas, marine, and automotive industries due to benefits such as part design freedom, component complexity, light weight, part consolidation, and design for function. . Moreover, additive manufacturing is a toolless manufacturing technology that can produce fully dense metal objects with high precision in a shorter period of time.
Methods Used in Aluminum 3D Printing
Laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) is a method used to 3D print aluminum with superior surface finish and high precision. This process is initiated by a localized melting of the material using a powerful laser, followed by the development of a successive layer of solidified metal. In this technique, the material and the workpiece supports are generated simultaneously and depending on the properties of the aluminum-based alloy, the process parameter can be changed to adjust the porosity, microstructure and final properties of the material.
Electron beam powder bed fusion is a method similar to LPBF in which an electron beam is used to solidify metal powder. Due to the high processing temperature of the electron beam, the single layers of 3D printed parts gradually cool, resulting in a coarser microstructure compared to LPBF.
Aluminum alloys used in 3D printing
AlSitenMg is an aluminum alloy commonly used for the industrial application of 3D printed aluminum. Its advantages are high strength, toughness, dynamic qualities, improved thermal characteristics and buildability.
AlSisevenMg is another high-strength steel alloy used in structural components in the aerospace, defense, and automotive industries. The main advantages of 3D printed AlSisevenMg are its light weight, corrosion resistance and high dynamic load capacity.
Additionally, some studies have demonstrated successful printing of Al 6061 and Al 7075, which were previously considered incompatible with metal additive manufacturing methods.
Recent research on 3D printed aluminum
In a recent study published in the journal Ceramic, Chinese researchers used the direct ink writing method to print aluminum phosphate bound2O3 ceramic. Their main finding was that Al2O3 the ceramic exhibited ultra-low dimensional shrinkage due to the addition of the inorganic binder.
Recent studies have explored the 3D printed aluminum composite sandwich structure for application in the aerospace industry. 3D printing of the composite sandwich structure can improve durability and manufacturing flexibility in the aerospace industry.
Further Reading: The Role of Pellet Extruders in 3D Printing
Adding nanomaterials to aluminum is also a recent research topic in metal 3D printing. Nanomaterials improve the mechanical and thermal properties of 3D printed aluminum and the fusion of nanoparticles during the 3D printing process improves the properties of 3D printed aluminum.
Benefits of 3D printing aluminum
The advantage of aluminum 3D printing is that the mechanical properties of aluminum can be changed by changing the microstructure and internal force distribution. Studies on aluminum 3D printing have also demonstrated material savings compared to conventional methods. High-tech industries that use metal additive manufacturing have demonstrated faster fabrication of complex components, better material strength, and ductility advantages over conventional methods.
Aluminum additive manufacturing also enables the production of highly optimized structures that were otherwise expensive, time-consuming, or even impossible to manufacture using conventional manufacturing methods. Additionally, 3D printed aluminum parts can be used with other parts to create hybrid structures.
Using aluminum 3D printing, it is also possible to fabricate structural sections with energy absorbing qualities with internal reinforcing features. Additionally, undesirable residual stresses developed in structural applications can be converted into advantageous prestressing.
Challenges and future scope of aluminum 3D printing
There are still significant challenges when it comes to 3D printing aluminum for multiple industrial applications. In some cases, 3D printing aluminum is more expensive than conventional production methods. In metal 3D printing, existing design methodologies must be modified to accommodate material properties and variable geometry changes.
Metal additive manufacturing techniques will need to be further standardized and new quality assurance procedures need to be implemented to ensure the reliability of manufactured parts throughout their life cycle. Aluminum 3D printing has significant application potential in various industries, provided these technical and industrial challenges are resolved.
References and further reading
Zengrong Hu, Feng Chen, Jiale Xu, Qiong Nian, Dong Lin, Changjun Chen, Xing Zhu, Yao Chen, Min Zhang, 3D Printing of Graphene-Aluminum Nanocomposites, Journal of Alloys and Compounds, Volume 746, 2018, Pages 269-276 , ISSN 0925-8388, https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925838818307618?via%3Dihub
Xin Xu, Junyi Zhang, Pan Jiang, Desheng Liu, Xin Jia, Xiaolong Wang, Feng Zhou, Direct writing with aluminum phosphate bonded Al2O3 ceramic ink with ultra-low dimensional shrinkage, Ceramics International, Volume 48, Issue 1,2022, Pages 864-871, ISSN 0272 8842, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ceramint.2021.09.168
Panwisawas, C., Tang, YT & Reed, RC Metal 3D printing as a disruptive technology for superalloys. Common Nat 11, 2327 (2020). https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0925838818307618?via%3Dihubhttps://doi.org/10.1038/s41467-020-16188-7
A study on 3D printing and its effects on the future of transport. September 2018. https://cait.rutgers.edu/wp-content/uploads/2018/05/cait-utc-nc19-final.pdf
Introduction to metal 3D printing. (nd). Hubs. https://www.hubs.com/knowledge-base/introduction-metal-3d-printing/
Erlinde, B. (2020, June 24). How 3D printing in aluminum really works. 3D Printing Blog | i. Materialize. https://i.materialise.com/blog/en/how-3d-printing-in-aluminium-works/