Exploring the impact of structure, chemistry, and morphology in additive manufacturing

Behind every beautiful smile is a set of straight and gleaming teeth. And to achieve this, many of us have had some kind of dental device fitted – such as dental crowns, bridges, implants, or orthodontic braces. But did you know that many of these appliances are also the first results of an exciting manufacturing revolution? Specifically, lots of these dental products are now produced using additive manufacturing (AM) – also commonly known as 3D printing.

Through this innovative technology, materials are joined to make parts using 3D model data, usually layer-on-layer, in contrast to subtractive manufacturing processes such as machining. Nice, right? Even better is that, thanks to its flexibility and high-efficiency potential, AM can bring significant advantages to manufacturers from a wide range of industries.

From dental devices to 3D-printed neighborhoods

Take jet engine supplier GE Aviation, for example. AM meant the tip of its innovative LEAP engine fuel nozzle could be made as a single-piece part. This part was 25% lighter, five times more durable, and 30% more cost-efficient than the original 20-piece design.1 Not to be outdone, the pharmaceutical industry is also exploring the use of AM to produce small batches of medicine with tailored dosages, shapes, sizes, and release characteristics.2 AM has even reached architecture: the world’s first 3D-printed neighborhood is currently being built in Mexico.3

It’s no surprise, then, that AM is expected to grow significantly over the next several years. Wohler’s Associates forecasts that sales of AM products and services will approach $50 billion worldwide by 2025.4 The COVID-19 pandemic has further highlighted AM’s attractiveness for supply chain and production security in uncertain times. And within AM, metal-based processes are growing particularly fast, driven by the aerospace, automotive, medical, energy, jewelry, and defense industries.

Material characterization: A key element in additive manufacturing

There’s one small challenge, though: because AM processes typically operate with fixed parameters, inconsistent material properties result in inconsistent finished component properties. So, to take full advantage of AM, manufacturers need strong material characterization processes to help them optimize their materials.

Material characterization is especially critical for metal powder bed processes. Why? Because a particularly large number of variables and process interactions can affect the final component – from particle size and shape to porosity, chemistry, and impurities. What’s more, material characterization also plays a vital role in the development of new alloys, polymers, and composites – currently being widely explored across industry and academia.

Several technical solutions for several material characteristics

At Malvern Panalytical, we offer several technical solutions to help manufacturers analyze a range of different material characteristics. Chemistry, morphology, and microstructure are particularly important for the success of metal powder bed processes.

Powder chemistry, for instance, must be compatible with the alloy composition of the material specified. To ensure this, manufacturers must understand and optimize chemical composition and impurities. X-ray fluorescence is a valuable method for this – and many metal powder producers are already using our floor-standing and benchtop XRF systems to analyze the chemical composition of their powders.

Morphology (including particle size and shape) is also important because it affects the packing, flow, and melting characteristics of the powders. This, in turn, impacts the density, porosity, and homogeneity of the final parts. To analyze and optimize their metal powder morphology, many manufacturers use our laser diffraction and automated imaging systems.

Finally, microstructure – the phases and grain structures present in the metallic material – is critical to the success of metal powder bed processes, especially when producing parts used in high-stress applications. Microstructure influences the mechanical behavior and fatigue response of a material. Often, manufacturers aim to achieve similar microstructures to those produced with conventional processes – X-ray diffraction tools like ours are a useful way to check this.

Our new whitepaper further explores the effect of each of these properties, and how to measure them using our analytical tools. Although our solutions are particularly useful for metal powders, several also have applications in polymer AM – such as laser diffraction, automated imaging, and gel permeation chromatography (GPC). Using these solutions, manufacturers from a wide range of industries – from defense to dentistry and far beyond – can take advantage of AM and embrace a new manufacturing era.

To find out more about our material characterization solutions for additive manufacturing, check out our whitepaper: ‘Optimizing metal powders for additive manufacturing’.

References

  1. Transformation In 3D: How A Walnut-Sized Part Changed The Way GE Aviation Builds Jet Engines
  2. Next-generation tablet manufacturing: 3D printing
  3. World’s First 3D Printed Neighborhood Is Absolutely Gorgeous
  4. Feel the pulse of the 3D printing industry