After 10 years of research, a team of scientists in China has developed a revolutionary metal 3D printing technology that combines 3D printing, casting and forging, the first time this has been done anywhere. The metal 3D printing technology is called “smart micro casting and forging” and the special 3D printer that gets the job done is being developed under the name Micro Forging & Casting Sync Composite Device.
The technology combines metal casting and forging technology to considerably improve the strength and ductility of metal moulds thereby expanding their service lives and reliability. Combining 3D printing, casting and forging also contributes to stronger parts strength and toughness, improved product lifecycles and better reliability, according to the inventors.
The Chinese team claims its new technology uses metal wire that is 90 per cent cheaper than additive manufacturing powders, and is 80 per cent more efficient than SLM 3D printing. It also said the technology has solved the biggest obstacle facing the 3D printing industry. The team said its smart micro casting and forging is an innovation that will be a boon to global machinery manufacturing, the aerospace, automotive and moulding industries. The technology can also be used to create thin-walled metal components while eliminating excess material.
Led by Zhang Haiou, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan, Hubei province, the team is also developing the Micro Forging & Casting Sync Composite Device. This all-in-one micro-casting-forging-milling manufacturing device is an alternative to metal 3D printing methods like selective laser melting and sintering. It will be capable of producing metal forging parts up to 5.5 m x 4.2 m x 1.5 m in size with a surface roughness of 0.02mm or the level of general machining processing.
“In the past, conventional 3D printing has been fatally flawed in the following areas. First, without forging, metal parts have a serious chance of wearing. Second, the performance of 3D printed parts has not been high. A third problem is the presence of pores and un-fused portions and the fourth is that using a laser or electron beam as a heat source is very costly,” said Zhang.
Experts have verified that parts made using the team’s 3D printing, casting and forging all-in-one technology are more stable compared to those made by traditional casting.
What’s more, the 3D printer is very large and open to a wide range of materials. The first iteration of this hardware can work with eight kinds of materials, including titanium alloy, for aircraft and marine use, and steel, for use in nuclear power stations. This machine has already successfully built a part that is 2.2 metres long and weighs 260 kilograms, as well as a forging part measuring 1800 x 1400 x 50mm. An even larger version of the 3D printer is already under development.