Researchers from the University of Cambridge have developed a new method for 3D printing steel that could cut costs and improve efficiency. By using lasers to modify the internal structure of the metal, this technique eliminates the need for traditional "heating and beating" methods, thus promising a more cost-effective and environmentally friendly approach to metal manufacturing.
A groundbreaking method for 3D printing steel has been introduced by a team led by the University of Cambridge. This technique marks a significant shift away from traditional methods that require heat and physical force to shape metals, known as "heating and beating," which have been in use for thousands of years. Instead, this new method utilizes laser technology to make precise structural changes in the metal during the 3D printing process.
One of the key advantages of 3D printing is its ability to create complex shapes with less material wastage compared to conventional methods. However, high production costs have so far limited its broader industrial application. According to Dr. Matteo Seita, who led the research, the high costs are mainly due to the adjustments needed in the materials post-production.
Since ancient times, metals have been shaped and their properties altered through a process that involves heating them and then physically shaping them, usually with a hammer. This age-old technique effectively changes the internal structure of the material, allowing for control over attributes like strength and flexibility. The problem with existing 3D printing technologies is their inability to offer the same level of control over the metal's internal structure.
To tackle this issue, the research team created a new "recipe" for 3D printing metal. By controlling the laser's heat and the material's subsequent cooling process, they managed to 'program' specific properties into the metal as it was being formed. This control allowed them to produce metal that is both strong and less brittle, overcoming one of the significant drawbacks of current 3D printing methods.
Their approach involves using the laser as a "microscopic hammer" that hardens the metal during the printing process. Then, when the metal is melted a second time with the same laser, its structure relaxes, allowing for a reconfiguration of its internal structure. This makes it possible to produce steel with qualities comparable to traditionally made steel, but with the added advantages of 3D printing.
According to Dr. Seita, this new method could significantly reduce the costs of metal 3D printing and contribute to making the metal manufacturing industry more sustainable. The team also plans to refine the process further, hoping to eliminate the need for low-temperature treatment in furnaces, thus simplifying the entire process.
This new 3D printing method using lasers offers a promising avenue for cost reduction and increased efficiency in metal manufacturing. By allowing for control over the internal structure of metals, it combines the best of traditional methods and modern technology. If successful on a larger scale, this could revolutionize how metals are produced, making the process cheaper and more sustainable.