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WSU Researchers Hope New One-Step 3-D Printing ‘Inspires Ingenuity’

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Washington State University (WSU) researchers recently introduced a new, one-step 3-D printing approach that allows manufacturers to approximate the design as well as the performance of complex natural materials.

The team said it was able to customize the performance of a component by printing and layering two different classes of materials — ceramic and metal — in a one-step process that would be difficult to achieve using traditional manufacturing, according to a report from WSU. 

“Traditionally, it was the properties of the material that determined how they were used,” said Amit Bandyopadhyay, professor in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering. “In this case, we used 3-D printing to design structural components to enhance performance.”

3-D printing allows engineers to print any design, but achieving the performance of a complex butterfly wing or a human bone has remained out of reach. In the past, researchers have tried creating components using calcium phosphate, which is what bones or shells are made of, but they fail, according to WSU researchers.

To overcome this challenge in 3-D printing, WSU’s team “used laser processing to transition in a gradual way from metal to ceramic and back to metal, producing a layered, ribbon-like structure that approaches natural minerals. Because the materials transitioned gradually from one layer to the next, the composite didn’t suffer from the cracks and brittleness that normally plague such pieces.”

Kellen Traxel, lead author on the paper and a graduate student in the School of Mechanical and Materials Engineering, said the significance is the ability to layer different classes of material in one step. He added that the work could be applied to numerous applications, from ballistic armor design to metallic hip implants.

“How can we leverage this work to make structures that have not been possible?” Traxel asked. “We have advanced the state-of-the-art with this technology and laid a foundation. I hope we can inspire ingenuity.”

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