3D printing v2.0: it’s steel’s turn

3D steel printing image
A 3D-printed steel sample undergoing a tensile test to measure its mechanical properties (Image courtesy of ConstructAdd)
An international consortium is developing 3D printing techniques for steel to help construction save energy and cut waste.

The consortium, ConstructAdd, believes that printing customised components and joints on site from scratch will eliminate the scrap produced by cutting parts from an existing steel plate. ConstructAdd is led by the Politecnico di Milano.

Computerised printers that combine heat and metal powders or wire can make precision components with high strength-to-weight ratio, tensile strength, and versatility, according to ConstructAdd.

It is studying three different printing methods: laser powder bed fusion; wire and arc additive manufacturing; and laser-directed energy deposition.

“Given that around one-third of all the waste produced around the world each year comes from the construction industry, steel production has a major role to play,” said project coordinator Dr Alper Kanyilmaz of the Politecnico di Milano.

“Current manufacturing techniques are not easily optimised. A lot of material is wasted – for example, during the cutting and welding of steel plates. Also, conventional construction techniques use a lot of material where it isn’t needed.”

ConstructAdd aims to prove that metal 3D printing can create less waste during fabrication and cut energy consumption by 30%.

“Steel is far more resistant and ductile compared to other materials. So, it offers more opportunities to manufacture more complex geometries that can withstand higher stress and fatigue loads,” said Dr Kanyilmaz.

“In any future where 3D printing becomes mainstream in the construction industry, steel will maintain those advantages. That is what makes developing additive manufacturing technology in this area so attractive.”

Financed by the European Research Fund for Coal and Steel, ConstructAdd brings together companies, technology and research centres from five European countries, including ArcelorMittal Vitry.

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