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AddSteel project developing new alloy powders for 3D printing

31 Jul 2019

Commercial and research partners including Fraunhofer ILT working to enhance laser powder bed fusion materials and processes.

German regional state government North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW) is backing the AddSteel R&D project, which is intended to “digitalize” the steel industry. Coordinated by SMS Group, a plant engineering company based in Mönchengladbach, this project, due to be completed in 2021, is developing new function-adapted steel materials for additive manufacturing.

One of the project’s key aims is the qualification of new materials for laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) metallic 3D printing process, at the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology (ILT) in Aachen.

AddSteel this week published a mid-stage report describing one of the project notable achievements as “the development of the first case-hardening and heat-treatable steel powders designed specifically for LPBF applications.”

“The AddSteel members are working to optimize the atomization process in the new plant at SMS Group to achieve a maximum ratio of the desired metal powder size," explained Andreas Vogelpoth explained, a member of the Laser Powder Bed Fusion Group and head of the AddSteel project at Fraunhofer ILT. "The materials being developed are designed to enable LBPF manufacturing of tools, gear wheels or highly-loaded parts such as hydraulic valve blocks.”

Coping with sales declines

A major challenge facing steelmakers in Germany, especially in NRW, is the continuing decline in sales. Previously, production efficiency was increased by modifying manufacturing processes and equipment. Now, however, developers and users are increasingly focusing on the alloys to be processed. Innovative materials offer new potential for competitive advantages.

The AddSteel report states, “The steel industry needs new materials to meet customers’ increasingly complex demands for products they can use, for instance, to manufacture lightweight and crash-resistant components for the automotive sector.”

This is where additive manufacturing techniques such as laser powder bed fusion come into play, thanks to its ability to exploit digital data to improve component design and functionality. The report adds, “Adopting metallic 3D printing based on LPBF technology also gives users the opportunity to sustainably optimize the steel industry’s value chain.”

Complex parts; new alloys

Over the past few years, scientists at F-ILT have been developing the additive laser powder bed fusion technology from a prototyping method up to an industrial-scale method for the production of complex parts in small series. LPBF is already being used by companies in the aerospace, turbomachinery, medical device and other industries to produce complex functional components.

However, one drawback currently prevents 3D printing of case-hardening (process of hardening the surface of a metal part) and heat-treatable steel: suitable alloys and forulations that would enable components to be additively manufactured in the LPBF process without forming cracks or defects have not been available in sufficient quantities for industrial manufacturing.

It was for this reason that the four partners – plant engineering company SMS Group, Deutsche Edelstahlwerke Specialty Steel, Krefeld, Fraunhofer ILT spin-off Aconity and F-ILT – with support from NRW’s Leitmarkt funding program, launched the AddSteel project to develop new steel materials.

The AddSteel project partners have chosen to develop alloys in an iterative process, combined with systematic adjustments to the LPBF process and equipment. This will be followed by the construction of technology demonstrators for fabricating new components and spare parts that will be used to test and validate performance and cost-efficiency.

New alloys in prospect

“A plant has already been built at SMS group that can nozzle suitable metal powders,” said Vogelpoth. “Deutsche Edelstahlwerke Specialty Steel is now supplying the new alloys that Fraunhofer ILT will soon be testing on its LPBF system, after the alloys have been converted into powder form.”

Anyone interested will have the opportunity to discover more about the AddSteel project at the Fraunhofer joint booth D51 in hall 11 at Formnext 2019, exhibition and conference on additive manufacturing and next gen industrial production, which will take place in Frankfurt am Main from November 19 to 22, 2019.

Recognition for AM innovator Christoph Leyens

In related news, Prof. Christoph Leyens has been appointed Adjunct Professor at the University of Waterloo, Ontario, Canada for his achievements in Additive Manufacturing. At the beginning of this year, the Director of the Institute of Materials Science at TU Dresden and Director of the Fraunhofer Institute for Material and Beam Technology (IWS) also received the award of the same title from RMIT University, Melbourne, Australia.

The tasks as adjunct professor include supervising doctoral students in Canada and Australia as well as promoting the exchange of students and scientists between the two countries from and to Germany. “I am very pleased about the opportunity to strengthen our international networking and visibility," he said.

"In Australia there is a well-established network of industry and research. Canada has just created a similar cooperation platform for Additive Manufacturing as we coordinate it from our Additive Manufacturing Center Dresden.”

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