How metal 3-D printing can avoid producing flawed parts

The goal of these X-ray studies is to find ways to improve manufacturing of specialized metal parts for the aerospace, aircraft, automotive and healthcare industries.

Scientists at the Department of Energy’s SLAC National Accelerator Laboratory are using X-ray light to observe and understand how the process of making metal parts using three-dimensional (3-D) printing can leave flaws in the finished product – and discover how those flaws can be prevented. The studies aim to help manufacturers build more reliable parts on the spot – whether in a factory, on a ship or plane, or even remotely in space – and do it more efficiently, without needing to store thousands of extra parts.

The work is taking place at the lab’s Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) in collaboration with scientists from the DOE’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and Ames Laboratory.

The 3-D printing process, also known as additive manufacturing, builds solid, three-dimensional objects from a computer model by adding material layer by layer. The use of plastics and polymers in 3-D printing has advanced rapidly, but 3-D printing with metals for industrial purposes has been more challenging to sort out.

“With 3-D printing, you can make parts with very complex geometries that are not accessible for casting like regular metal parts,” says SLAC staff scientist Johanna Nelson Weker, who is leading the project. “Theoretically, it can be a quick turnaround – simply design, send, print from a remote location. But we’re not there yet. We still need to figure out all of the parameters involved in making solid, strong parts.”

>Read more on the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource website

Image: SLAC staff scientist Johanna Nelson Weker, front, leads a study on metal 3-D printing at SLAC’s Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource with researchers Andrew Kiss and Nick Calta, back.
Credit: Dawn Harmer/SLAC