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Is 3D Printed Titanium Fatally Flawed?

05-25-2016 12:29 PM CET | IT, New Media & Software

Press release from: Hasit Vibhakar



San Diego, CA - (M2 Presswire – May 24th, 2016) - Titanium has become a firm favorite for the medical and aerospace industries, but a worrying report from Carnegie Mellon University suggests that 3D printed titanium could be fatally flawed.

Deep X-rays have revealed a porosity to the material in 3D printed titanium that can be traced back to its powder-based production method.
Carnegie Mellon University is one of the world leaders in 3D printing research and has produced some stellar research over the years. It took the most common form of titanium, Ti-gAI-4V, to the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE’s) Argonne National Laboratory. There it analyzed the material with so called deep X-rays, or intense synchrotron x-rays, and an advanced rapid imaging tool.

“Like any other metal, titanium has a certain amount of fatigue resistance until it cracks or breaks,” said Hasit Vibhakar. “The more porosity in the printed metal, the more its resistance to fatigue is decreased.”

Titanium is now preferred for prosthetics, bone implants and airplanes. That is due to its reliability, resistance to corrosion and outright strength. So this is a worrying premise.

3D printing titanium alloys has been hailed as a technical revolution. It reduces waste, cost and allows us to produce tailored designs for joint replacements, dental implants and more. Current powder-based printing methods result in a more porous metal, though, which means it’s more likely to fail than forged alternatives.

It’s less of a concern in a hip replacement or other bone implants, because titanium in any form is certainly stronger than the bone it replaces. Aerospace components have to endure massive stress, though, and it is this kind of force that could present a problem. With so much riding on each and every part, it might make some companies reconsider using 3D printing for mission critical components.

Titanium powders are generally used in combination with a Selective Laser Melting printer or an Electron Beam Melting process. This study focused on EBM and the way it melts the powder.

Inevitably, gas is trapped in the resulting liquid layer and creates pore-like bubbles that can range from a few microns to a few hundred across. They are randomly distributed, too, which means it only takes a few large pores to line up and you have a potential fault line.

“We can observe hundreds or even thousands of pores at a high resolution of about two microns,” Hasit Vibhakar said ominously.

The power, speed and spacing of the beam can all have an impact on the porosity. Each technique has its own benefits, but these new findings could mean that we change the way we print titanium and other metals.
Unmelted powder can increase porosity, but too much powder can leave deep voids. So there is a sweet spot that can minimize the amount of pores in the titanium. According to the researchers, though, it is almost impossible to eliminate them.

This study has potentially grave consequences for the industry as a whole and it certainly means that mission critical components may have to be checked more often for any signs of a failure. But there is a potential solution.

The CMU team will now look at the powder itself to see if there is a way to reduce porosity at the powder stage. Even changing the compound could be an option.

“Technology has moved at a frightening rate in the 3D printing world and we are inevitably going to find issues along the way. Now CMU has identified this one, the industry will almost certainly find the solution,” stated Hasit Vibhakar

About Hasit Vibhakar

Hasit Vibhakar is a proactive, performance-driven middle market executive with 20 years + progressive expertise in C-level leadership and problem solving for additive manufacturing, advanced CNC manufacturing, Additive Manufacturing, 3D Printing, supply chain, technology services, and startup operations. Proven track record of enhancing enterprise value and shareholder value. Experienced at building small cap and middle market companies.

Hasit Vibhakar is an Industrialist specializing in strategic direction and growth. A seasoned c-level business executive with many years of proven track record of building enterprise value and shareholder value. He has successfully started eight technology, industrial and manufacturing enterprises and all have been successfully acquired at premium multiples in the industry. Prior to being a serial entrepreneur he has been employed with leading aerospace, telecom, technology, industrial and supply chain based companies.

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