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NIMS and Osaka University 3D print nickel single crystals using laser PBF

Widely-used technology may accelerate development of heat-resistant jet engine components

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NIMS and Osaka University Graduate School of Engineering have succeeded in using 3D printing to fabricate a nickel single crystal with only a very few crystalline defects by irradiating nickel powder with a large-radius, flat-top laser beam. Their research was published in Additive Manufacturing Letters, an open access journal.

The nickel single crystal, with only a very few crystalline defects, was obtained by irradiating nickel powder with a large-radius, flat-top laser beam (i.e., a laser beam whose intensity is uniform across a cross-section of the beam). This technique may be used to fabricate a wide variety of single-crystalline materials, including heat-resistant materials for jet engines and gas turbines.

Previous studies have reported that single crystals can be fabricated using electron beam additive manufacturing. However, this technique requires expensive equipment and its operation is also costly due to the need to create a vacuum, limiting its widespread use. Although laser additive manufacturing can be performed using cheaper equipment, previous efforts to fabricate single crystals using this technique had failed.

When a raw metal powder material is irradiated with a laser beam, it melts, forming a solid-liquid interface. It had been difficult to grow grains near the interface in the same direction and to prevent the formation of strain-inducing defects caused by their solidification. This problem was found to be attributed to the intensity profile of conventional Gaussian laser beams (i.e., laser beams with a bell-shaped intensity across a cross-section of the beam), which causes the formation of polycrystals composed of less oriented crystalline grains with many grain boundaries.

Using a commercial SLM 280 3D printer from SLM Solutions, the NIMS–Osaka University Graduate School of Engineering research team succeeded in fabricating single crystals using a flat-top laser beam, forming a flat melt pool surface on the nickel powders. Individual crystalline grains grew in the same direction with fewer strain-inducing defects. Single crystals without grain boundaries, which are susceptible to cracking, are very strong at high temperatures.

From the left: laser beam being irradiated on the powder bed and the resulting cylindrical single-crystalline objects produced. (Right) A flat-top laser beam can be applied to form crystals aligned in the same orientation while the application of a conventional Gaussian laser beam results in less oriented crystalline grains.

This new technique allows to minimize strain generation and cracking of crystals during their solidification. In addition, this technique does not require the use of seed crystals, simplifying additive manufacturing processes. In addition to nickel, this laser additive manufacturing technique can be used to process other metals and alloys into single-crystalline objects.

Jet engine and gas turbine components are becoming more complex in shape and lighter, and the demand for additive manufacturing of these components using heat-resistant nickel-based superalloys is growing. Because single crystals are stronger than polycrystals at high temperatures, their practical use as heat-resistant materials is promising. Global R&D efforts to achieve this using cheaper and widely used laser additive manufacturing technology is expected to intensify rapidly.

This project was carried out by a research team consisting of Dennis Edgard Jodi (Junior Researcher, NIMS; Ph.D. student, Kyushu University), Tomonori Kitashima(Open in a new window) (Principal Researcher, NIMS; Associate Professor, Kyushu University), Makoto Watanabe(Open in a new window) (Director of the Bonding and Manufacturing Field, NIMS), Takayoshi Nakano (Professor, Graduate School of Engineering, Osaka University) and Yuichiro Koizumi (Professor, Graduate School of Engineering, Osaka University).

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