WORLD FIRST: HRL Laboratories registered new 3D printed aluminum alloy

HRL Laboratories, a research center owned jointly by General Motors and Boeing, has announced the registration of its high-strength aluminum alloy, paving the way for commercialization of the material.  

HRL’s 3D printable alloy, the only one of its kind incorporating non-weldable aluminum alloys Al7075 and AL6061, will be the first to register with the new Aluminum Associations additive alloy registration system.

The Aluminum Association, a Virginia-based trade association and standards organization, created the new register in February 2019 in response to a growing demand for aluminum alloys in additive manufacturing.

Expanding the additive manufacturing register 

The ‘purple sheet’ forms part of the association’s ‘rainbow sheet’ series, in which individual colors of the rainbow designates a distinct aluminum alloy and describes industry standards.

Since 1954 the Aluminum Association has registered more than 500 aluminum alloys, and HRL’s new material has been fundamental to the series’ expansion for additive manufacturing. Hunter Martin, lead scientist on the HRL team that created the alloy, explains, “When I first contacted the Aluminum Association about registering our alloy, they did not have a way to register alloys printed from powders, so they decided to create a new system for registration of additively manufactured materials – a first in the materials space.”

“Essentially, this will connect us to this particular alloy composition forever. These alloy numbers will always be trackable back to HRL, like a DNA signature.”

A true commercial alloy

HRL Laboratories’ high-strength Aluminium alloy powder was revealed to the world in September 2017. To create the powder they used commercially available variants of Al7075 and Al6061 micropowders as a base, to which grain-refining zirconium-based nanoparticles are added. This controls solidification during printing, allowing the alloy powder to be 3D printed via laser without cracking, unlike objects printed using pure Al7075 and Al6061 powders. The resulting material strength of the alloy is comparable to that of wrought aluminum.

Additively manufactured high-strength aluminum parts. Image via HRL Laboratories.

Zak Eckel, another HRL team member said, “We’re in the process of commercializing this material, which is already in high demand. As we scale up to commercial levels, AA registration validates our product. Companies who want the powder for their 3D printers can ask for its specific number, and it becomes a true commercial alloy.”

Prior to their work with aluminium, HRL were awarded a grant by NASA’s Space Technology Research, Development, Demonstration, and Infusion program, in August 2017 to develop ceramic engine components.

The Aluminum Association will publish the purple sheets later this year. Organizations interested in having their product considered for inclusion can register their interest.

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Featured image shows additively manufactured high-strength aluminum parts. Image via HRL Laboratories.