ORNL develops micro-scale 3D metal printing process

EBM system precisely controls structure and properties of 3D metal parts during formation.

0 October 15, 2014
Mike McLeod

ORNL researchers have demonstrated the ability to precisely control the structure and properties of 3D printed metal parts during formation. This electron backscatter diffraction image shows variations in crystallographic orientation in a nickel-based component, achieved by controlling the 3D printing process at the microscale. (Image credit: ORNL)

ORNL researchers have demonstrated the ability to precisely control the structure and properties of 3D printed metal parts during formation. This electron backscatter diffraction image shows variations in crystallographic orientation in a nickel-based component, achieved by controlling the 3D printing process at the microscale. (Image credit: ORNL)

At the Materials Science & Technology 2014 conference, researchers from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) demonstrated a metal 3D printing technique that precisely manages solidification of metal part layers on a microscopic scale. According to the ORNL team, being able to locally control material properties, will allow engineers to create metal parts that are stronger and lighter than those made by conventional metal forming processes.

Using an ARCAM electron beam melting system (EBM), which fuses layers of metal powder using an electron beam, the technique can control the microstructure, or crystallographic texture, of a nickel-based parts during formation. According to the ORNL researchers, crystallographic texture is key to determining a material’s physical and mechanical properties.

“We’re using well established metallurgical phenomena, but we’ve never been able to control the processes well enough to take advantage of them at this scale and at this level of detail,” said Suresh Babu, the University of Tennessee-ORNL Governor’s Chair for Advanced Manufacturing. “As a result of our work, designers can now specify location-specific crystal structure orientations in a part.”

Other contributors to the research are ORNL’s Mike Kirka and Hassina Bilheux, University of California Berkeley’s Anton Tremsin, and Texas A&M University’s William Sames. The research was supported by the Advanced Manufacturing Office in DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy.
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