Super strong titanium alloy rocket part can be 3D-printed

An international team of researchers has discovered that a super-strong titanium alloy, a key material in a number of industries, can be 3D printed.

Because of their extreme strength compared to their weight, titanium alloys are used throughout the aerospace, automotive, defense, biomedical and energy sectors.

But they are difficult to manufacture, requiring extensive casting and thermomechanical processing to achieve their strength.

Until now.

An article published in natural materials has outlined an additive manufacturing process (3D printing) to produce a commercial titanium alloy.

“Applying a new process to an existing material is always interesting for industry because you can use it immediately,” says lead author Professor Aijun Huang, a materials science and engineering researcher at Monash University.

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“People always have concerns that a 3D printed alloy isn’t as good as many wrought alloys, or sometimes even not as good as cast alloys.

“So trying to find a new way to improve mechanical performance is always a hot spot for the 3D printing space.”

Huang describes the new technique for producing the “nano-twinned” alloy as “very simple”.

Titanium powder with micron-sized particles is burned into a mold using a so-called 3D printing technique Laser powder bed fusion.

Then the printed material is heat treated at 480°C.

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The resulting material has a tensile strength of over 1600 megapascals – making it the strongest known 3D printed metal. (For comparison, some of the strongest non-3D printed titanium alloys are around 2000 megapascals.)

More on titanium alloys and additive manufacturing: 3D printing of rocket and satellite parts

Huang says the new process could be used immediately by industry, “particularly for the aerospace and defense industries.”

“A lot of people are interested in designing new materials through 3D printing, which is always interesting,” says Huang.

“But in industry they don’t like new materials. The approval process for new materials is very lengthy and very expensive.

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“We have been working on a commercial alloy that is already available.”

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