Ford Motors and ExOne have developed a process for rapid binder jet 3D printing and sintering of aluminium with similar properties as die casting.
ExOne indicated in a press statement that the companies have applied for collaborative and individual patents for this process.
For over a decade, researchers were working on a commercially viable achievement in the area with little success. Although some aluminium alloys can be 3D printed with lasers, the process is slower than the one developed by the Ford-ExOne collaboration.
The process will also allow Ford to increase efficiency by allowing the carmaker to produce complex parts at affordable costs that enable size and weight reductions, part consolidation, and performance improvement.
Ford’s technical leader for additive manufacturing Harold Sears calls it a breakthrough in the production of 3D printed and sintered parts for the auto industry. Moreover, Sears said that the high-speed aluminum 3D printing paves way for further opportunities, especially since the metal can be used to the manufacture complex parts, which was previously unattainable.
ExOne’s chief executive officer John Hartner cites the achievement as a real win, adding the easy and faster way to 3D print aluminium is a critical step towards making lightweight products.
The development of this patent-pending process began in 2019 using binder jetting, which is touted as the fastest 3D metal printing method for high-volume output.
It uses a digital file to quickly inkjet a binder into powdered particles for metal, sand, or ceramic and create a solid part with a layer-by-layer approach. The final bound metal part is sintered in a furnace to fuse the particles into a solid object. This heat treatment reinforces the strength and integrity of the metal.
The process for sintering stainless steel is already established, but the collaboration states achieving a density greater than 99pc is an industry breakthrough for aluminium.