Investigators at several research institutions, including Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, Ames National Laboratory, Georgia Tech University, and Oregon State University, have made a major breakthrough in the 3D printing of 316L, a type of versatile “marine-grade” stainless steel.
316L is a superior material to other marine grade steels — used in everything from oil pipelines and kitchen utensils to medical implants and engine parts — which have high strength, but low ductility. Ductility refers to the important ability of metals to plastically deform and adapt when they are put under stress. This quality, the opposite of brittleness, allows them to absorb energy and makes them more durable.
After designing the new steel material’s underlying microstructure with computer modeling, the researchers used two different laser 3D printers to fabricate thin plates of 316L for mechanical testing. They found that the new material can be up to three times stronger than steels manufactured using conventional techniques. “This opens the door for 3D printing real components,” Morris Wang, a materials scientist at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, told Digital Trends.
At present, the work is still very much in the research stages, but it suggests that ultra-strong 3D-printed stainless steel could not be too far away. This would allow the aforementioned applications — such as engine parts, medical implants and more — to be made significantly tougher. In particular, the researchers think the advance could have applications in fields like aerospace and the oil and gas industries, where it is important to improve the durability of metal components because of the extreme conditions that they face. Although, hey, what self-respecting D.I.Y. 3D-printing enthusiast would turn down the opportunity to incorporate new ultra-tough materials into their workshops?
“Our next goal is to apply 3D-printing technology to other lighterm but more brittle materials, to see whether we can make them stronger and more ductile,” Wang continued. However, he added that the team is only focused on the research side and that, “We’ll leave industry people to commercialize our findings.”
A paper describing the work, titled “Additively manufactured hierarchical stainless steels with high strength and ductility,” was recently published in the journal Nature Materials.
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