Metal 3D printing materials supplier Nanosteel has developed a method of 3D printing a gradient of metals in a single part.
You might think the materials for 3D metal printing are just powdered metal, but there’s much more science to developing effective metal materials. Parts must be carefully engineered to provide appropriate performance in their eventual application, and this often requires different material characteristics across portions of a part.
Early 3D metal printers simply printed a part in uniform material, perhaps changing the geometry or internal structure to vary the engineering characteristics of the print. But there’s much more to be gained by adapting the material itself.
This is a difficult thing to do, but it appears that NanoSteel has developed a method of doing so. They say:
The company used a combination of high hardness and ductile alloys to create a part featuring a gradient design. NanoSteel worked with Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology to generate part samples using freeform direct laser deposition. This single additive manufacturing process achieved a seamless transition between the hard and ductile properties without subsequent heat treatment.
Previously, NanoSteel had created materials suitable for directly 3D printing heavy-use items like bearings or impellers, and the latest development builds on that technology.
Our feeling is that much of the future advance of 3D printing technology will come from materials science. Sure, we can print a many materials today, but the list is relatively short in comparison to the number and variety of materials available to conventional manufacturing. This restriction leads to difficulties in using 3D printing of many kinds of parts.
NanoSteel is one of few companies deeply investigating the world of 3D printing materials, in their case metal materials. It will be work like theirs that will gradually lift the restrictions on 3D printing and power it into much more widespread use in industry.