Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) has been investigating the additive manufacturing of aluminum alloys for several years. In particular, the researchers have been focused on materials that can perform under high pressure in high temperature environments, which are needed for automotive, aerospace, defense and space applications — such as pistons within an engine.
Recently the ORNL researchers announced that they have successfully produced a lightweight aluminum alloy using additive manufacturing. The alloy — which combines aluminum with cerium and other metals — was 3D printed using a laser powder bed system that deposits one thin layer of material at a time for precise results.
“Using powder-bed 3D printing allowed the alloy to rapidly solidify into fine, stable strengthening particles in the microstructure, resulting in the remarkable high-temp creep resistance we measured,” said Ryan Dehoff, a researcher at ORNL. “We expected notable improvements, but were surprised by how strong and stable these alloys proved to be.”
For the purposes of this project, the team additively manufactured pistons designed to be implemented in a full-scale engine. Following testing, the aluminum alloy has demonstrated the ability to resist creep or deformation at 300°C. The pistons will undergo additional testing inside of a four-cylinder, turbocharged engine to further demonstrate the capabilities of the alloy.