One of the criticisms of 3D printing has long been that it really can’t create durable, practical, metal products. Well, I think 3D printing is already to a point where that complaint is based on old technology, and it doesn’t at all reflect the reality of present-day metal 3D printing technology.
But, for those skeptics, I give you a NEW breakthrough, one that allows for the printing of “marine grade” stainless steel. If this new breakthrough is not enough to convince you that metal 3D printing is a viable alternative to traditional methods of manufacturing, then nothing will, and 3D printing will simply pass you by.
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Researchers at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL), joined on their work by scientists from Ames National Laboratory, Georgia Tech University, and Oregon State University, have achieved a “breakthrough” in the 3D printing of 316L, a common form of “marine grade” stainless steel with a low-carbon composition. Marine grade steels, used in places like oil pipelines, engine parts, and kitchen equipment, typically have a low corrosiveness and high ductility. Excitingly, tests showed that under certain conditions the final 3D printed stainless steels were up to three times stronger than steels made by conventional techniques.
These expert scientists believe their 3D printed 316L stainless steel could offer higher levels of strength and ductility than other forms of the steel, making it useful for chemical equipment, medical implants, engine parts, and various other applications that require superior physical properties from their equipment.
The researchers were well aware that simply 3D printing some stainless steel would be worthless if its quality were lesser than existing metallurgical options. So when the parts came out rugged and ductile, LLNL materials scientist and lead author Morris Wang had good reason to celebrate.
“In order to make all the components you’re trying to print useful, you need to have this material property at least the same as those made by traditional metallurgy,” Wang said. “We were able to 3D print real components in the lab with 316L stainless steel, and the material’s performance was actually better than those made with the traditional approach.”
The LLNL breakthrough could have big consequences not just for the CVs of Wang and his associates, but for a wide range of companies involved in the production of marine grade stainless steel parts.
The researchers think that those in the aerospace, automotive, and oil and gas industries are in a particularly strong position to adopt the additive manufacturing of 316L in order to improve the physical properties of their metal parts. Because these industries often need parts that are resistant to extreme weather conditions, the added strength and ductility of the 3D printed stainless steel could prove invaluable.