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NASA's JPL Develops Multi-Metal 3D Printing Process 32

yyzmcleod (1534129) writes The technology to 3D print a single part from multiple materials has been around for years, but only for polymer-based additive manufacturing processes. For metals, jobs are typically confined to a single powdered base metal or alloy per object. However, researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory say they have developed a 3D printing technique that allows for print jobs to transition from one metal to another in a single object. From the article: In JPL’s technique, the build material’s composition is gradually transitioned as the print progresses. For example, the powdered build material might contain 97 percent titanium alloy and 3 percent stainless steel at the beginning of the transition. Then, in 1 percent increments between layers, the gradient progresses to 97 percent stainless steel and 3 percent Ti alloy by some defined point in the overall 3D printing process.
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NASA's JPL Develops Multi-Metal 3D Printing Process

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  • by MindPrison ( 864299 ) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @11:38AM (#47574691) Journal
    Yep, I'd like to see that. Never-mind why, I just want to see that.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      I'm sorry, but NASA is long past the Mercury project now.

    • Mercury alloys don't tend to be very good for much of anything, except where the process of amalgamation is important - and that's not here.
  • Gradients (Score:4, Interesting)

    by i kan reed ( 749298 ) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @11:53AM (#47574805) Homepage Journal

    I'm not an industrial/mechanical/aerospace engineer.

    Are there any existing manufacturing processes that allow the creation of a metal gradient of this sort? Is this unique to 3d printed constructions?

    I've got enough of an understanding of statics to grasp how it might be useful to transition from sturdier heavier components to lighter more fragile materials, so I could see how if this was new, it'd be revolutionary.

    • Re:Gradients (Score:5, Interesting)

      by HappyPsycho ( 1724746 ) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @12:26PM (#47574991)

      While I doubt it is unique to 3d printing (I could be wrong though) but the simple pour into mould methods won't work without taking into account the relative densities of the metals involved (depending on how long they take to cool they may separate out anyway).

      The real benefit I can see here would be from the ability to control how fast you move from one material to another which seems to be one of the major benefits (having the gentle transition of the alloy removes the transition point and the matching weak point).

      What may be unique is the control that 3d printing offers, I'm sure someone can create [] without using 3d printing but I'm also sure its not a quick / easy process.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      The Russian aerospace industry has been doing this for quite some time (the Soviets were incredibly advanced with their metallurgy, if not much else) but the process involved basically heat grafting progressively biased alloys onto each other, which proved almost impossible to automate and required a lot of manual intervention by incredibly skilled technicians along the manufacturing chain - it proved so difficult and expensive (even if it WAS revolutionary for the time), they only used the method on an inc

  • by gurps_npc ( 621217 ) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @12:18PM (#47574933) Homepage
    And not just for "gradient" bonding. You can use non-gradient, sharp boundaries to create parts that touch but are NOT bonded. Want to create a machine with two interlocking gears? Make one gear out of steel and the other out of titanium. They won't bond even though they are touching each other.

    Right now, you basically can't build a machine that can build itself, because almost all machines need multiple metals AND needs parts that touch but are not bonded. A simple motor for example needs metals that are magnetic and non-magnetic and also needs something that can spin.

    With this technology, a machine may actually be able to create a copy of itself that does not need any other parts added, nor will it need human assembly.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      A quick correction is needed on a "machine copying itself" is due. I've been using 3D RP processes for over 15 years and there are specific limitations no one is talking about.

      When, as the article noted, the build layer thickness of the melted metal powder is .005 inches, you can NOT make finely finished and accurately sized mating parts for any sort of normal moderate tolerance machinery.

      The part shown in the article needed to be cleaned up with precision turning, milling, grinding and lapping polishing m

    • Classic old saw is that the only tool in a workshop which can duplicate itself is a lathe --- hence the Gingery books starting w/ making a lathe using investment castings: []

      (Book 1 is how to set up a charcoal foundry)

      Had a copy of Book 2 a long while ago and gave it away --- always rather regretted that.

    • With this technology, a machine may actually be able to create a copy of itself that does not need any other parts added, nor will it need human assembly.

      Well, you didn't expect Skynet to rely on humans to fabricate all those Terminators, did you?

  • by Prune ( 557140 ) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @12:58PM (#47575261)
    Many of those problems will not be resolved. The most important one, and one that will always be worse in the case of 3D printing compared to traditional mass manufacturing methods, is the extreme energy inefficiency. For example, when printing with plastic, a 3D printer uses 50-100 times more electricity than an injection molding machine making the same part, not to mention that it wastes a lot of material left in the print bed that's not recyclable as feed for the printer because its properties have been corrupted. Home and office use should also be discouraged because of the emittance of ultrafine particles. Want your place of living/work's air even more polluted? Source for these: []

    There are other problems as well, including cultural ones. From the article:
    3D printing might someday encourage a new kind of pollution: rapid garbage generation. Engineers being trained to respect their raw materials are taught "Think twice, cut once." When people get ahold of easy production tools, however, it’s easy to not heed that wise old adage.
    Like we don't have enough of a throw-away culture as it is.
    3D printing should only be used to manufacture objects which cannot be made by other methods.
    • by fullmetal55 ( 698310 ) on Thursday July 31, 2014 @03:14PM (#47576381)

      That's actually my biggest complaint about 3d printing...

      It's never going to replace injection molding for manufacturing. That will always be cheaper. where this comes in handy, is prototyping. which is what they were intended for from the beginning. you need to make a part, a one-off... it's great for that. if you need to make more than one... then other options are available. but to be honest making a SINGLE one-off part through injection molding? that'll take you more than 50-100 times more electricity of the 3d printer, because you'll need to make the mold, and then you get to throw it away because its not needed anymore.

      but for prototyping and one-offs... thats where 3d printing's niche is. prove it can work with a 3d printer, then mass produce it.

      now since this article is about METAL 3d printing, that's an entirely different beast altogether... injection molding (Casting) of metal components of course will be cheaper, but can you cast multiple alloys together like this? that's kinda cool... even you gotta admit that.

  • The layout of the metals will need to plan for internal corrosion. Whilst, both titanium and most stainless steels have a corrosion proof film (it is why these materials are so useful, particularly when used alone), the use of two different grades WILL set up an electrochemical potential between the parts and this will provide an opening for corrosion to occur.

"How many teamsters does it take to screw in a light bulb?" "FIFTEEN!! YOU GOT A PROBLEM WITH THAT?"