04 DECEMBER 2019

Designer alloy enables 3D printing of fine-grained metals

Conventional alloys have undesirably coarse-grained microstructures when used in 3D printing. A designer alloy overcomes this problem, potentially opening the way to the widespread adoption of 3D metal printing.

Additive manufacturing of ultrafine-grained high-strength titanium alloys

Duyao Zhang, Dong Qiu, Mark A. Gibson, Yufeng Zheng, Hamish L. Fraser, David H. StJohn & Mark A. Easton

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Abstract Additive manufacturing, often known as three-dimensional (3D) printing, is a process in which a part is built layer-by-layer and is a promising approach for creating components close to their final (net) shape. This process is challenging the dominance of conventional manufacturing processes for products with high complexity and low material waste1. Titanium alloys made by additive manufacturing have been used in applications in various industries. However, the intrinsic high cooling rates and high thermal gradient of the fusion-based metal additive manufacturing process often leads to a very fine microstructure and a tendency towards almost exclusively columnar grains, particularly in titanium-based alloys1. (Columnar grains in additively manufactured titanium components can result in anisotropic mechanical properties and are therefore undesirable2.) Attempts to optimize the processing parameters of additive manufacturing have shown that it is difficult to alter the conditions to promote equiaxed growth of titanium grains3. In contrast with other common engineering alloys such as aluminium, there is no commercial grain refiner for titanium that is able to effectively refine the microstructure. To address this challenge, here we report on the development of titanium–copper alloys that have a high constitutional supercooling capacity as a result of partitioning of the alloying element during solidification, which can override the negative effect of a high thermal gradient in the laser-melted region during additive manufacturing. Without any special process control or additional treatment, our as-printed titanium–copper alloy specimens have a fully equiaxed fine-grained microstructure. They also display promising mechanical properties, such as high yield strength and uniform elongation, compared to conventional alloys under similar processing conditions, owing to the formation of an ultrafine eutectoid microstructure that appears as a result of exploiting the high cooling rates and multiple thermal cycles of the manufacturing process. We anticipate that this approach will be applicable to other eutectoid-forming alloy systems, and that it will have applications in the aerospace and biomedical industries.