Editorial Feature

The Growing Influence of 3D Printing on Heat Treatment

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Additive manufacturing, which is more commonly recognized as three-dimensional (3D) printing, has rapidly advanced over the last several years to allow a wide variety of companies to quickly produce working prototypes according to the specific designs provided by the manufacturer. Aside from plastic being the primary 3D printing material, a number of other materials including metals, cements and even glass have been incorporated into 3D printed products. The relationship between 3D printing and heat treatment is equally beneficial, as the heat treatment of 3D printed projects has been shown to dramatically increase the strength and stiffness of certain 3D printed parts, whereas the 3D printing of heat treatment parts can be advantageous in the manufacturing process and subsequent properties of the 3D printed parts.  

Heat Treating 3D Printed Products

Since practically all 3D printed materials exhibit surfaces that are near net shaped, there is a zero tolerance for contamination on any surfaces, which thereby requires temperature control during this process to remain at 2° F. By combining heat treatment processes with 3D printing, manufacturers are able to directly thermocouple the pieces they are producing while also improving the specific characteristics of the product being produced.

Heat Treatment and 3D Printed Plastics

One of the most common filaments used in 3D printers is polyactic acid (PLA) plastic, which exhibits strong, yet occasionally brittle properties. By heating PLA materials quickly, followed by an extrusion and rapid cooling period, the structure of the PLA material transforms from a previously unorganized and amorphous structure to a completely reformed structure that exhibits an increased amount of large crystals that form1. The presence of these large and numerous crystals limits the ability of the material to fail, while also improving the mechanisms by which the 3D printed project is able to respond to stress.

3D Printed Heat Treating Parts

The 3D printing of heat treatment parts provide an unmatched freedom in the design of nonlinear geometries of these parts that can simultaneously increase the performance of these parts while also reducing the typical bulky size and weight that is associated with these parts.

3D Printing in Thermal Management

Thermal management is an important engineering element that is often utilized within the electronics, aerospace, automotive and energy industries, as the devices used within these industries often generate excess heat that must be managed to improve its reliability and simultaneously prevent premature failure of the device(s)2. By combing the advancing field of 3D printing with the production of thermal management parts, researchers are hopeful that a new generation of thermal management parts will exhibit a drastic improvement in their performance at a reduced size, weight and cost.

3D Printed Argon Diffuser

The North Carolina State University Center for Additive Manufacturing and Logistics (CAMAL) has recently developed a SolidWorks 3D printed model of an argon gas diffuser that can be utilized during heat treatment processes. Specifically, during heat treatment processes, argon is pumped into the furnace to displace any ambient air that may be left to cause oxidation of the heat-treated parts. The design of their model allows argon to be pumped into the furnace through a tube that is directly connected to the diffuser3. Comprised of cobalt chromium through a process that requires approximately 10 hours to complete, the 3D printed part is equipped with a series of holes placed throughout the ring structure to allow for argon to be released evenly into the furnace.

References

How Annealing Makes Your 3D Prints Better” – Fargo 3D Printing
Advancing Thermal Management with Additive Manufacturing” – CAMAL NC State University
3D Printing an Argon Diffuser for Heat Treatment of DMLS Parts” – CAMAL NC State University

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