U.S. Army Adapts Military-Grade Steel Alloy for 3-D Printing Ultra-Strong Parts

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March 12, 2019 | Originally published by Date Line: March 12 on

The new AM materials demonstrated 50{a5a52754a3edfb0a49ddef0e73cf1215f7e4bf4c0ac7b74df45ba06cff9fe421} more strength than commercially available materials

Researchers from the U.S. Army Combat Capabilities Development Command’s Army Research Laboratory have adapted a specialized steel alloy for Powder Bed Fusion 3-D printing. The new material, along with specific process parameters, can produce parts that are roughly 50{a5a52754a3edfb0a49ddef0e73cf1215f7e4bf4c0ac7b74df45ba06cff9fe421} stronger than commercially-available materials.

Within a military context, additive manufacturing has the potential to radically change logistics, offering a way to produce replacement parts and products on the fly. Though the technology is already used in the field, its applications are still limited. The ability to produce ultra-strong metal components from the military-grade steel, however, could be a game changer.

“You can really reduce your logistics footprint,” said Dr. Brandon McWilliams, a team lead in the lab’s manufacturing science and technology branch. “Instead of worrying about carrying a whole truckload, or convoys loads of spares, as long as you have raw materials and a printer, you can potentially make anything you need.”

The material in question is AF96, a steel alloy originally developed by the U.S. Air Force for bunker-busting bomb applications. Researchers from the army laboratory adapted the material, which boasts high strength and hardness, into powder form so it can be used with powder bed Fusion technology. The researchers have successfully 3-D printed complex components using the steel powder that would have been impossible to produce using more traditional manufacturing processes.

“The nice thing about that for the Army is that it has wide ranging applications,” McWilliams added. “We have interest from the ground combat vehicle community, so [AF96] could be used for replacement parts. A lot of our parts in ground vehicles now are steel. So this could be dropped in as a replacement not having to worry about material properties because you know it’s going to be better.”