A microscopic image of 3D-printed 17-4 stainless steel. The colors in the left-side version of the image represent the differing orientations of crystals within the alloy.
Credit: Qilin Guo/NIST
For airliners, cargo ships, nuclear power plants and other critical technologies, strength and durability are essential. This is why many contain a remarkably strong and corrosion-resistant alloy called 17-4 precipitation hardening (PH) stainless steel. Now, for the first time ever, 17-4 PH steel can be consistently 3D-printed while retaining its favorable characteristics.
A team of researchers from the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Argonne National Laboratory has identified particular 17-4 steel compositions that, when printed, match the properties of the conventionally manufactured version. The researchers’ strategy, described in the journal Additive Manufacturing, is based on high-speed data about the printing process they obtained using high-energy X-rays from a particle accelerator.
The new findings could help producers of 17-4 PH parts use 3D printing to cut costs and increase their manufacturing flexibility. The approach used to examine the material in this study may also set the table for a better understanding of how to print other types of materials and predict their properties and performance.
Despite its advantages over conventional manufacturing, 3D-printing of some materials can produce results that are too inconsistent for certain applications. Printing metal is particularly complex, in part because of how quickly temperatures shift during the process.
“When you think about additive manufacturing of metals, we are essentially welding millions of tiny, powdered particles into one piece with a high-powered source such as a laser, melting them into a liquid and cooling them into a solid,” said NIST ..
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