Specifically, the joint team optimized the process parameters for the 3D printing of a high-strength magnesium alloy called WE43. The lightweight alloy was used to fabricate 24 micro-lattice structures via laser powder bed fusion, which enabled the scientists to characterize its compressive strength and failure modes. The hopes are that WE43 will eventually go on to be used in future Army parts.
“We used a magnesium alloy known as WE43, which has only been successfully 3D printed by a handful of researchers,” said Dr. Brandon McWilliams, the lead researcher for 3D printing metals at the ARL. “In this work, we optimized the process to achieve higher density than previously reported and used that to produce and characterize lattice structures made up of WE43.”
Magnesium WE43 for lightweight weapons systems
Magnesium Elektron WE43 is described as a high-strength casting alloy. The material can be used in temperatures of up to 300°C and boasts a tensile strength of 250MPa. By offering a blend of excellent mechanical properties with corrosion resistance, WE43 has previously seen use in helicopter transmission assemblies, aerospace engines, high-performance cars, and even missiles.
Coupled with metal 3D printing, the material has the potential to deliver critical mission components as and when needed, eliminating the Army’s reliance on time-inefficient conventional supply chains. Furthermore, McWilliams believes the drive towards lightweight alloy 3D printing will be a crucial aspect of the U.S. Army’s modernization strategy, making operations a little easier for future soldiers out in the field.
McWilliams adds, “Current systems are too heavy, which increases burden to the Soldier, reduces fuel efficiency and degrades mission effectiveness. It is my goal as an Army researcher to conduct research, which has the maximum chance of success of transition from basic and applied research stage to practical application in order to enable transformational overmatch.”
Advancing defense 3D printing via collaboration
The ARL has made it a point to partner with both industry and academia on research projects since launching its Open Campus initiative. Beyond just additive manufacturing, the Open Campus aims to leverage regional expertise to accelerate innovation in a plethora of STEM fields.
For the UCF project, ARL researchers will now work to evaluate the strain rate and ballistic properties of their 3D printed magnesium WE43 parts. The team will also seek out new demonstration applications, such as ultra-lightweight unmanned aircraft and robotic ground vehicle components.
“This was an exciting and rewarding collaboration that produced the technological accomplishment founded on fundamental understanding of materials and additive manufacturing,” said Prof. Yongho Sohn, lead researcher at UCF. “Technological vision with clear scientific objectives defined by Dr. McWilliams and his team were the key to our contribution.”
The U.S. Army, much like the rest of the armed forces, is no stranger to metal 3D printing. Earlier this month, the Applied Science & Technology Research Organization (ASTRO America) was selected to coordinate a new U.S. Army initiative focused on developing an ultra-large-format metal 3D printer for the production of ground vehicles. In a similar vein to the work at UCF, the system will be used to 3D print single-piece, lightweight, armored vehicle hulls (chassis) for tanks and Humvees.
Elsewhere, at Penn State’s College of Engineering, researchers were recently awarded $434,000 by the U.S. Army to develop an optimized method of 3D printing high-strength alloys. The project will see the team leverage computer modelling to develop a laser-based DED process that’s capable of printing robust steels with enhanced material properties.
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Featured image shows Dr. Brandon McWilliams, the lead researcher for 3D printing metals at the ARL. Photo via ARL.