Heraeus presents the world’s largest additive manufactured amorphous-metal component

Heraeus, a German technology group specializing in precious metals, has produced the “largest amorphous metal component” using additive manufacturing. Using its own patented AMZ4 metal powder in a standard SLM 3D printing system, the part comes in the form of an additive manufactured gear wheel, made of amorphous metals.

Measuring at a height of 65mm and 110mm in diameter, Heraeus premiered the metal alloy part at Automate 2019 in Chicago. When heated, amorphous metals gains properties akin to glass or plastic, enabling great potential uses for 3D printing. With the “world record additive manufactured gear wheel made of amorphous metals”, Heraeus states this is a milestone in additive manufacturing, creating new design possibilities for a variety of industries:

Heraeus is breaking through the boundaries of 3D printing and opening completely new design possibilities for a wide range of industries – from automation solutions and robotics to aviation, medical technology and the automotive industry.”

The heraeus amorphous metal component. Photo via Heraeus.
The Heraeus amorphous metal component. Photo via Heraeus.

What are amorphous metals?

Amorphous metals differ from pure metals and classic alloys, in that they are characterized by an irregular, non-crystalline structure, with a super-cooled liquid region in their thermodynamic profile. This allows it to combine extreme hardness and high yield strength with elastic and malleable properties, as it undergoes continuous softening when heated, like common thermoplastics used in Fused Filament Fabrication (FFF).

With these combination of properties, amorphous metals present a promising subject of exploration via additive manufacturing, as it also allows for extrusion-based 3D printing methods as opposed to laser sintering from metal powders. Tobias Caspari, SVP of Additive Manufacturing at Heraeus, has previously highlighted potential uses, “Amorphous metals will change our future. They possess a wide variety of previously incompatible characteristics: They are very strong and yet malleable, as well as harder and more corrosion-resistant than conventional metals.”

Heraeus working on the amorphous metal component. Photo via Heraeus.
Heraeus working on the amorphous metal component. Photo via Heraeus.

Additive manufacturing the largest amorphous metal component

One of the limits of amorphous metals however, is that only small parts could be produced using the materials, as they often require cooling rates over 1000 Kelvin/second. To overcome this and produce a larger amorphous metal component, Heraeus optimized the topology of the gear during development of the part. The company claims this allowed its material and process experts to reduce the weight by 50 percent compared to conventional manufactured versions. The gear weighed in at two kilograms, with a volume of 294.97 cm³ and surface area of 93981.45mm².

The SLM 3D printing method, in combination with Heraeus’ AMZ4 patented metal powder, a zirconium-based bulk metallic glass (BMG) forming alloy, also helped the company to reduce the weight of the gear, as well as the costs and material usage to produce it.

The amorphous-metal cog wheel can be seen live at the Heraeus booth at Automate in Chicago: April 8-11, 2019, McCormick Place, Booth 9619.

The amorphous metal component. Photo via Heraeus.
The amorphous metal component. Photo via Heraeus.

The potentials of amorphous metal

Heraeus has said that, with the production of its additive manufactured amorphous gear wheel, it has eclipsed all of its previous results. The technology group has been working on 3D printing amorphous metals since 2016, where it first included the material in its portfolio of 3D printing metals.

BMG alloys presents huge potential in 3D printing for a variety of industries and uses, with NASA investigating the potential benefits of using the material in its spacecrafts when exploring harsh environments. The material does harbour disadvantages, however research is being conducted to improve the material due to its potential uses. A team of researchers led by Dr. Lin Liu at the Huazhong University of Science and Technology (HUST) in China, for example, have discovered a way to suppress the micro-cracks that can occur when 3D printing amorphous metal.

Massachusetts-based 3D printer manufacturer Desktop Metal is also researching the possibilities of 3D printing amorphous metals, in a co-authored paper with researchers at Yale University and MIT. 3D printing BMGs could be the next step for the technology unicorn.

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Featured image shows the amorphous metal component. Photo via Heraeus.