July 14, 2024

Innovative Laser Technology Enables Precision Modification of 3D-Printed Metals

Researchers at the University of Cambridge have developed a groundbreaking technique that utilizes high-energy lasers to finely adjust the properties of 3D-printed metal without compromising the intricate shapes it forms.

While 3D printing metal has proven to be a valuable tool in the fields of engineering and manufacturing, it does come with its limitations. Traditional methods of 3D printing metal involve laying down thin layers of metal alloy in powder form. These layers are then melted or sintered using lasers or electron beams guided by digital models, with additional layers being added. Once the printing process is completed, excess powder is removed to reveal the finished product.

While this method allows for the rapid formation of complex shapes, it neglects the importance of controlling the physical, chemical, and mechanical properties of the metal. Without proper control, the end result may not meet desired standards.

Consider the example of a 3D-printed knife. Despite the ability to create intricate designs and details that are impossible to achieve using conventional techniques, without careful manipulation of the metal’s properties, the blade may break easily or lack a sharp cutting edge.

For simple shapes, traditional metalworking techniques involving heating and forging can be employed to fine-tune the metal’s structure. However, these techniques are not suitable for intricate 3D-printed objects. To address this challenge, the research team from the University of Cambridge, in collaboration with researchers from Singapore, Switzerland, Finland, and Australia, explored the use of lasers to modify the metal in situ.

The concept behind their approach was to selectively melt spots on the completed stainless steel object using lasers, effectively altering its crystalline structure. By doing so, they could enhance the strength of the printed metal while reducing its brittleness. The laser acted as a microscopic hammer, allowing for precise modification on a small scale.

Although this technique cannot replicate conventional metalworking methods, the team turned to an ancient technique used in the production of high-quality sword blades. By alternating the spots treated by the laser with untreated ones, they achieved a high degree of control over the final properties of the 3D-printed object.

Dr. Matteo Seita, from Cambridge’s Department of Engineering and leader of the research team, believes that this method could potentially reduce the costs associated with metal 3D printing, subsequently enhancing the sustainability of the metal manufacturing industry. Looking ahead, the team hopes to further streamline the process by bypassing the low-temperature treatment typically required in furnaces, ultimately making 3D-printed metal parts more accessible for engineering applications.

With the development of this innovative laser technology, the limitations of 3D printing metal may soon be overcome, opening up new possibilities for the fabrication of intricate, strong, and reliable metal objects.


  1. Source: Coherent Market Insights, Public sources, Desk research
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