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Ames Laboratory and Oak Ridge National Laboratory have been awarded $5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) to improve the production and composition of metal alloy powders used in additive manufacturing.

Additive manufacturing, also known as 3D printing, has reached a widespread measure of success in manufacturing processes using polymers, or plastics. But the use of metal alloys for additive manufacturing has lagged due to lack of both materials and process development.

“There’s a lot of intense interest focused on additive manufacturing with metal alloys, because there are so many potential applications,” said Iver Anderson, project leader and senior metallurgist at Ames Laboratory and adjunct professor in Materials Science and Engineering Department at Iowa State University. “Industry has demands for prototyping parts, design development, reducing waste of expensive materials, and efficiently producing custom and legacy components for their customers.”

Because additive manufacturing uses metal alloy powders as its raw material, the ability to control the properties and quality of those powders becomes paramount to the quality of the final product, and achieving properties equal to cast and machined or, especially, cast/forged and machined parts.

“Today, if a manufacturer went to metal powder producers with a shopping list of the alloys and powder specifications they needed for their manufacturing process, they very likely wouldn’t find what they want,” said Anderson. “The customization capabilities are just not there, and we need to get there. That is going to be the key to commercially competitive additive manufacturing processes.”

The project will improve powder production by developing advances in a high pressure gas atomization process pioneered at Ames Laboratory and will design and customize alloys specifically for additive manufacturing processing methods. Modeling and simulation of gas atomization process stages at Ames Lab will use a flow simulation code developed by National Energy Technology Laboratory for part of the work. The experimental gas atomization work and alloy design calculations/verification also will be performed in the powder synthesis facilities at Ames Laboratory. Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (ORNL-MDF) will conduct the corresponding additive manufacturing experiments.

The Advanced Manufacturing Office (AMO) partners with industry, small business, universities, and other stakeholders to identify and invest in emerging technologies with the potential to create high-quality domestic manufacturing jobs and enhance the global competitiveness of the United States.

Ames Laboratory is a U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science national laboratory operated by Iowa State University. Ames Laboratory creates innovative materials, technologies and energy solutions. We use our expertise, unique capabilities and interdisciplinary collaborations to solve global problems.

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