Chinese scientists develop new metal 3D printing technology

WUHAN – A team of scientists in China has developed a metal 3D printing technology called “smart micro casting & forging.” Researchers with Huazhong University of Science and Technology in central China’s Hubei Province have successfully manufactured metal parts and molds using new 3D printing technology, sources with the university announced on Friday. The new metal 3D printing technology addresses existing problems in traditional metal 3D printing methods, said Zhang Hai’ou, leader of the 3D printing technology research team at the university.

These problems, such as flowing, dropping or crumbling of fused materials due to gravity, cracking, stress and rapid heating and cooling can severely affect modeling performance and accuracy, according to Zhang.

Under the leadership of Zhang Haiou, Professor of Mechanical Engineering at Huazhong University of Science, a team of scientists in China has—after 10 years of research—developed what could prove to be a game-changing form of metal manufacturing. A combination of 3D printing, casting, and forging, the new method claims to have “broken the biggest obstacle facing the 3D printing industry,” bringing a disruptive technological innovation to global machinery manufacturing.

After over a decade of research, Zhang and other researchers have independently developed the new method of metal 3D printing, called “intelligent micro casting and forging.” The method combines metal casting and forging technology and significantly improves the strength and ductility of metal molds to expand their life and reliability.

The invention has also reduced the costs for forging equipment and raw materials through a computer-controlled modeling process, Zhang said.

Additive manufacturing is becoming a more and more popular choice for metal parts across a wide range of industries, but doubts remain over the structural integrity of certain 3D printed components. Advocates of traditional manufacturing methods cite the porosity, lack of fusion, and other problems associated with 3D printed parts as a reason to stick with casting or forging techniques.

The Micro Forging & Casting Sync Composite Device, a new product developed by Zhang Haiou and his team, offers an alternative to metal 3D printing methods like selective laser melting and sintering, combining 3D printing, casting, and forging in one. This amalgamation of techniques contributes to increased part strength and toughness, improved product lifecycle, and higher reliability. According to its developers, the technology can also be used to create thin-walled metal components while eliminating excess material and equipment costs.

The all-in-one micro-casting-forging-milling manufacturing equipment currently being developed by the scientists will be capable of producing metal forging parts up to 5.5 × 4.2 × 1.5 m in size, with a surface roughness of 0.02 mm—the level of general machining processing. The team has, however, already developed a machine capable of 3D printing in eight kinds of materials, including titanium alloy, for aircraft and marine use, and steel, for use in nuclear power stations. This machine has built a part 2.2 m long and weighing 260 kg. It has also successfully 3D printed a forging part measuring 1800 × 1400 × 50 mm.

In traditional mechanical manufacturing, cast metal can not be directly processed into high-performance parts. Its internal structure must be improved through forging, while molding problems also need to be solved. Large forging machinery can be costly, however, and implementation of such equipment results in a long production process, huge energy consumption, serious pollution, and serious waste. Furthermore, it remains difficult to produce functionally gradient material parts. As a burgeoning technology, conventional metal 3D printing technology can solve the above shortcomings of the traditional system, making it a valuable technology in the aerospace, automotive, and molding industries.

The technology has been awarded both national and international patents. It can be applied in the aerospace, medical, and auto industries, among others.


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