Ames Laboratory receives $5M to improve metal powders for additive manufacturing

The $5 million award will help improve the production and composition of metal alloy powders used in additive manufacturing.

A team of researchers from the Ames Laboratory (Ames, IA) and the Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL; Oak Ridge, TN) has been awarded $5 million from the US Department of Energy's Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO; Washington, DC) to improve the production and composition of metal alloy powders used in additive manufacturing.

Additive manufacturing (also known as 3D printing) has reached a widespread measure of success in manufacturing processes using polymers (plastics). But the use of metal alloys for additive manufacturing has lagged because of the lack of both materials and process development.

Because additive manufacturing uses metal alloy powders as its raw material, the ability to control the properties and quality of those powders becomes paramount to the quality of the final product, and achieving properties equal to cast and machined or, especially, cast/forged and machined parts.

"Today, if a manufacturer went to metal powder producers with a shopping list of the alloys and powder specifications they needed for their manufacturing process, they very likely wouldn't find what they want," says Iver Anderson, project leader and senior metallurgist at Ames Laboratory and adjunct professor in the Materials Science and Engineering Department at Iowa State University (also in Ames, IA). "The customization capabilities are just not there, and we need to get there. That is going to be the key to commercially competitive additive manufacturing processes."

The project will improve powder production by developing advances in a high-pressure gas atomization process pioneered at Ames Laboratory, and will design and customize alloys specifically for additive manufacturing processing methods. Modeling and simulation of gas atomization process stages at Ames Laboratory will use a flow simulation code developed by the National Energy Technology Laboratory (South Park Township, PA) for part of the work. The experimental gas atomization work and alloy design calculations/verification also will be performed in the powder synthesis facilities at Ames Laboratory. Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (ORNL-MDF) will conduct the corresponding additive manufacturing experiments.

The AMO partners with industry, small business, universities, and other stakeholders to identify and invest in emerging technologies, with the potential to create high-quality domestic manufacturing jobs and enhance the global competitiveness of the US.

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