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After inventing the metal 3D printing process, MELD Manufacturing continues to develop its technology, producing 3D printers based on it. Now, the U Research Group of Virginia Tech’s Materials Science and Engineering Lab has begun to lead the study of the technology in an academic capacity.
According to Virginia Tech, its research interests include process fundamentals such as temperature, material flow, and deformation, dynamic phase and microstructure development, and the design and fabrication of heterostructured materials. The team also hopes to develop new applications using magnetic materials, metallic glass, and shape-memory materials.
Nancy Hardwick, CEO and Founder of MELD Manufacturing, explains, “Our primary relationship is with the Department of Materials Science. And they are very important to us because they have expertise. They have one of our machines and they have world class characterization equipment. Since this is a new process, our customers need to know a lot of information about the material we print, and Virginia Tech is helping us get that information.”
How does additive friction stir deposition work?
MELD Manufacturing holds over a dozen patents for the additive friction stir deposition process. Unlike other metal 3D printing technologies, which melt the printing material, the technology is a solid-state process that takes place below the melting temperature.
The technology sees a solid feed rod (printing material) being pushed through a hollow rotating device. When the feed rod comes into contact with the substrate below, it begins to cleave and stick to the substrate through friction, deforming plastically but never melting. The rapidly rotating tool has the effect of heating the material, which makes it flexible enough to withstand such severe plastic deformation. Once the first layer is smeared, the feed rod is simply lifted and pushed back down to print more layers until the final 3D portion is complete.
This process is compatible with a variety of metals such as aluminum, titanium, steel and nickel-based superalloys. MELD’s 3D Printing Applications Are Mainly in DefenseIncluding part coating, component repair, metal joining and custom metal matrix composite billets.
Due to its solid-state nature, additive friction stir deposition benefits from lower residual stresses as well as significantly lower energy requirements compared to conventional laser-based 3D printing. It is also compatible with materials that are not susceptible to porosity, hot-cracking and other problems associated with melt-based technologies.
Additionally, MELD’s technology is a single-step process, so users do not have to worry about tedious post-processing workflows such as sintering or hot isostatic pressing (HIP) to improve part quality.
Size and speed
According to MELD, additive friction stir deposition is capable of producing metal parts on a large scale that has never been seen before. This can be attributed to the fact that the technology is not limited to small powder beds or vacuum systems, it is an open environment process that is not restricted by the operating environment or physical surface conditions. MELD also claims that this technology can deposit materials up to ten times faster than a process such as powder bed fusion.
Hardwick says, “We are able to make bigger things, parts that previously could only be forged. We print them and alloys that are not possible using other 3D printing techniques. And we are able to make them in the open air. Capable of taking on any range of table scale. It’s an incredibly scalable technology.”
Concept drawing of MELD additive manufacturing repair on a forward operating basis. Image via MELD Manufacturing
Additive friction stir deposition is one of several 3D printing processes that have been unveiled in recent years. Just this week, based in Barcelona bcn3d announced its new Viscous Lithography Manufacturing (VLM) 3D Printing Technology, marking the company’s entry into the resin market. The approach is a multi-material one, which enables users to simultaneously print with two highly viscous resins.
elsewhere, including a union airbus, safran landing systemAnd this National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS) has recently started working on a new Hybrid Directed Energy Deposition (DED) 3D Printing Process for the aerospace sector. Aimed at addressing the challenges currently faced by traditional construction firms, the new technology will reportedly address a number of issues related to manufacturing costs and lead times.
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