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Strong AND Ductile Metals Possible with 3D Printing

Posted on December 13th, 2017 by in New Materials & Applications

Vanadium disc etched

Image by Alchemist-hp [CC BY-NC-ND 3.0] via Wikimedia

Engineers and metallurgists may no longer have to trade strength for ductility when choosing structural metals thanks to 3D printing techniques.

Selection of materials for any application is always a trade-off between conflicting constraints. In the case of structural metals, strength typically comes with the “cost” of ductility. As a material increases in strength, it also becomes more brittle. It will carry greater load, but can withstand less strain before failure so is more susceptible to fatigue failure.

New research recently published on ScienceDirect, suggests a new design strategy of creating heterogeneous nanostructured metals (HNM) in single-phase metals producing ultra-high strength while inducing non-homogeneous plastic deformation. Evan Ma of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering, Johns Hopkins University and Ting Zhu of the Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, Georgia Institute of Technology found HNMs enhance strain hardening and consequently uniform tensile ductility at high flow stresses.

3D printing techniques such as plasma sintering were used by the researchers to develop a variety of HNM structures. With control on the nanometer scale, a range of designs referred to as bimodal, harmonic, lamellar, gradient, domain-dispersed, and hierarchical nanostructures were found to produce soft and hard regions within the material. The soft regions facilitate plastic deformation, enabling gradients to occur. The figure below plots the yield strength versus tensile strain measured for the HNM examples quantifying the experienced improvement.

yield strength versus tensile strain measured for the HNM examples

Image by Evan Ma,Ting Zhu [CC BY-NC-ND 4.0] via ScienceDirect

Traditional metallurgical approaches to controlling metal strength properties include heat treatment and alloying. Through controlled selective heating and cooling, metals can be hardened and tempered. The following YouTube video from Applied Science does a nice job of describing the effect of heat treatment on metals and what it means for resulting material properties:

3D printing remains very topical with innovations seemingly in the news every day. From the materials being used to the revolutionary and generative designs that could not be produced using conventional manufacturing techniques, many engineers and scientists have found new and interesting applications for the technology. Looking at the nanoscale, researchers like Ma and Zhu appear to have unlocked a new area of unconventional knowledge with potentially wide reaching impact on the most pervasive material serving mankind today – metal.

What applications do you see for heterogeneous nanostructured metals in your company’s product line? Tell us about your quest for unconventional knowledge and what it could mean for the future of your products or companies. Share your thoughts in the comments section below and don’t forget to follow us on your favorite social media channel.


All opinions shared in this post are the author’s own.

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