3D printing technology continues to advance, developing new applications which are particularly promising for the world of architecture. Now, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) have demonstrated a new manufacturing process that can create 3D printed metal components with an unprecedented degree of precision. For architecture, this could mean greater control over the customization of the smallest components in buildings, as well as more carefully engineered properties of the larger ones.
The new technique involves an additive process in which successive layers of material are laid down with computer control and fused to create an object of almost any shape. As technology has progressed, printers have been able to progressively increase their resolution, enabling the creation of smaller parts with smoother surfaces. ORNL has developed a process that precisely manages the solidification of metal parts in each layer on a microscopic scale. This enables them to better control local material properties, which can have a profound impact on the strength, weight, and function of 3D printed metal components.
Read on to learn more about how this manufacturing process could shape the future of 3D printing.
The method uses an ARCAM electron beam melting system (EBM) which fuses together layers of metal powder. This allows for the precise management of the solidification process at smaller scale than ever before. Using a nickel-based part, researches have demonstrated 3-dimensional control of the crystallographic texture of the material during formation. According to the researchers, crystallographic texture is particularly important in determining a material’s physical and mechanical properties.
This type of precise control over a material’s properties is particularly useful in the electronic and aeronautic industries, but as the technology becomes more accessible it could also have far-reaching applications in other industries as well. Most importantly, the development of this technology represents the advancement of 3D printing processes at an entirely new scale. This increased control over material microstructure could enable the production of customized components that are more durable and lighter than ever. Somewht similar to Arup's recent development in 3D printing metal, which focused on only adding material where it was needed, this new development could be used to make components that are strong where they need structural strength, but hard in others where they might need to resist scratches or chips. For architecture, this could enable the production of precisely engineered fasteners in non-standard and increasingly small sizes, lightweight metal components for portable structures, and more.