Researchers develop high-performance 3D printer for titanium structures

With the benefits of reduced material waste and the ability to create lightweight, high-strength structures, titanium 3D printing is finding its niche in many industries. Titanium is an expensive material but essential for various industries due to its strength properties and low specific weight. The excellent material properties of titanium combined with the advantages of 3D printing make the applications of this technology in sectors such as aerospace or biomedical very high added value.

Researchers from Peter the Great St.Petersburg Polytechnic University (SPbPU) have developed a unique 3D printer, named the “Prism,” mainly to print structures made of titanium. This printer may also be used to print products made of steel, aluminum, magnesium, nickel alloys.

Prism’s printing system is located in a chamber with an inert atmosphere. The researchers used the wire as a raw material to ensure the high productivity of the process. The layer-by-layer deposition is performed in the 3D printer, in which the wire is melted due to the burning of an electric arc. In a developed printer, two wires can be fed simultaneously to increase productivity and synthesize new alloy or gradient structures from two different wires.

Researchers develops high-performance 3D printer for titanium structures.
Prism’s printing system is located in a chamber with an inert atmosphere. Credit: SPbPU

For numbers, German and Spanish companies are limited in wire feed rates to the level of 6 m/min, while the SPbPU printer prints at a feed speed of 12 m/min.

Our printer “Prism” has higher performance characteristics compared to the analogs,” notes Oleg Panchenko, Head of the Laboratory of Light Materials and Structures SPbPU. “Due to the use of chamber with an inert atmosphere, we can print any metal, even very active like titanium. Also, the technology of printing itself was improved by the scientific group of SPbPU by developing a double wire feeding system and a special shape of a current and voltage waveforms that used for electric arc burning.

In fact, it is allowed to use two dissimilar materials during 3D-printing. Using two different wires helps create innovative materials with gradient transitions in the structure or, for example, intermetallic compounds that are rarely used now due to product manufacturing complexity. Thus we can print a 4 kg titanium product within one hour. Our printer, due to the use of the robotic arm, can be adapted for the needs of a specific enterprise, in particular, to increase or, on the contrary, to reduce its printing area.

Researchers have already obtained several patents for the solutions used in the printer.