Aerospace and Automotive Industries Research on High-Strength Lightweight Aluminum-Based Alloys

| Editor: Nicole Kareta

Global technology Group Oerlikon has entered into an AM research alliance with Linde, an industrial gases company, and the Technical University of Munich. The aim is to develop new high-strength, lightweight aluminum-based alloys that can serve the safety and weight reduction needs of the aerospace and automotive industries.

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Cross-disciplinary research on lightweight aluminum-based alloys serves safety and weight reduction needs.
Cross-disciplinary research on lightweight aluminum-based alloys serves safety and weight reduction needs.
(Source: gemeinfrei / Pixabay )

This research partnership was born out of the additive manufacturing collaborative announced in early October. The Technical University of Munich (TUM), Oerlikon, GE Additive and Linde announced the establishment of a Bavarian additive manufacturing cluster and an additive manufacturing Institute to promote higher levels of collaboration and cross-disciplinary research amongst the companies and the university. Having a wide variety of expertise in one geography is expected to accelerate advances in additive manufacturing. The Bavarian Ministry of Economic Affairs is funding 50 % of the 1.7 million EURO research project.

Combined Know-How

The Oerlikon – Linde – TUM consortium is unique as each of the three members bring its own high-tech expertise to the table in this complex space. Producing the optimum aluminum alloy with a high content of lightweight elements like magnesium through an AM process requires a deep understanding of chemistry, thermo- and fluid dynamics. During the manufacturing process, the metal powder is applied one layer at a time on a build plate and melted using a laser beam. This fuses the metal powder together and forms the desired complex, three-dimensional geometries. The process takes place in a well-defined shielding gas atmosphere.

Development with Big Data Simulations and Analyses

Oerlikon’s experience in powder and material science will contribute to the development of the novel material. “Using our proprietary software, which enables big data simulation and analysis, Scoperta-RAD, Oerlikon provides critical solutions for the development of new materials and performance optimization of available materials,” says Dr. Alper Evirgen, Metallurgist at Oerlikon AM. “There are significant challenges during the additive manufacturing of aluminum alloys because the temperatures reached in the melt pool create an extreme environment that leads to evaporation losses of alloying elements that have comparatively low boiling temperatures – such as magnesium,” adds Dr. Marcus Giglmaier, Project Manager, AM Institute and Research Funding Manager. “Additionally, the cooling rates of more than 1 million °C per second, create high stresses during the solidification process, which can cause micro cracks in the solid material.”

Control of the Gas Process Accelerates the Entire Printing Procedure

Linde’s technology and its expertise in gas atmosphere control and evaporation suppression during the AM process – including the processing of aluminum-based alloys – overcomes impurities within the print chamber, helping manufacturers to achieve optimal printing conditions. “Characterizing and controlling the gas process during AM not only has the potential to prevent evaporation losses, but also to accelerate the entire printing process,” explains Thomas Ammann, Expert Additive Manufacturing at Linde. “Using a tailor-made gas chemistry for the new alloy would help to control the processes occurring in the melt pool and minimize the compositional changes of the alloys, as well as preventing cracking during printing.”

Process Simulation Tool Covers the Whole Melt Pool Dynamics

For its part, the Institute of Aerodynamics and Fluid Mechanics (AER) at TUM has a detailed understanding of the physical phenomena taking place during the additive manufacturing process using numerical simulations. “The AM research alliance bridges the gap between our latest numerical modeling achievements and future industrial applications,” says Prof. Nikolaus Adams, Director of the AER. At AER, a process simulation tool has been developed to cover the whole melt pool dynamics – from solid to liquid and gas with phase change models, surface-tension effects and thermal transport. “A detailed insight into the simultaneously occurring thermo-fluid dynamic phenomena is crucial in gaining a better understanding of the entire process and the final material characteristics,” adds Dr. Stefan Adami on the benefits of computational fluid dynamics.