Researchers Outline Physics of Metal 3D Printing


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While the most common method of metal 3D printing is growing exponentially, moving forward from producing prototypes to manufacturing critical parts will be possible only by reaching a fundamental understanding of the complex physics behind the process, according to a new paper authored by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) researchers. 

The powder bed fusion process, also known as selective laser melting (SLM), requires thin layers of a metal powder to be spread across a build area, where they are fused by a laser or electron beam based on a 3D computer-aided design (CAD) model. The process is repeated until a part is produced, layer-by-layer from the bottom up.

Video of 3D printing a curved metal rocket motor throat

Even though the method has quickly progressed into a production technology, 3D printing of metal parts (also known as metal additive manufacturing) for industries such as aerospace and health care is hampered, according to LLNL’s Wayne King, by a lack of confidence in the finished parts. This hurdle, he said, can be overcome by a combination of physics-based modeling and high-performance computing to determine the optimal parameters for building each part.

“If we want to put parts into critical applications, they have to meet quality criteria. Our project is focused on developing a science-based understanding of the additive manufacturing process to build confidence in the quality of parts,” said King, leader of the Lab’s Accelerated Certification of Additively Manufactured Metals Project (ACAMM). “We want to accelerate certification and qualification to take advantage of the flexibility that metal additive manufacturing gives us. Ideally, our plants would like to build a part on Monday that can be qualified and on the same machine on Tuesday build a different part that can also be qualified.”

In a paper published in the January edition of Applied Physics Reviews (link is external) that was commissioned by the publication, King and his team describe two physics-based models for the selective laser melting process on scales varying from the particulate powder to the whole part or component.

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