X-rays make 3D metal printing more predictable

Insights into the microscopic details of 3D printing gained using the microXAS beamline of the Swiss Light Source SLS could propel the technology toward wider application.

Researchers have not yet gotten the additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, of metals down to a science completely. Gaps in our understanding of what happens within metal during the process have made results inconsistent. But new research could grant a greater level of mastery over metal 3D printing.

Using powerful x-rays generated by the Swiss Light Source SLS and Argonne National Laboratory’s Advanced Photon Source, researchers at Paul Scherrer Institute PSI, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), KTH Royal Institute of Technology in Sweden and other institutions have peered into the internal structure of steel as it was melted and then solidified during 3D printing. The findings, published in Acta Materialia, unlock a computational tool for 3D-printing professionals, offering them a greater ability to predict and control the characteristics of printed parts, potentially improving the technology’s consistency and feasibility for large-scale manufacturing. 

“So-called operando measurements with x-rays enable us to capture what is really happening to the microstructure during a rapid process such as printing.” said Steven Van Petegem, senior scientist at PSI, who led the experimental work performed at the SLS using the microXAS beamline.

Read more on the PSI website

Image: Researchers used high-speed X-ray diffraction to identify the crystal structures that form within steel as it is 3D-printed. The angle at which the X-rays exit the metal correspond to types of crystal structures within.

Credit: H. König et al. via Creative Commons (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0), adapted by N. Hanacek/NIST