A New Bronze-Steel Alloy Has Been Developed Thanks to 3D Printing

Published on January 17, 2023 by Madeleine P.
Bronze-Steel Alloy

A group of researchers at the Skolkovo Institute of Science and Technology, or Skoltech, say they have developed a new bronze-steel alloy using additive manufacturing. They turned to direct laser deposition to produce different parts composed of these two metals, a first for the market. Two techniques were used: in the first case, a mixture of the two metals was made before depositing the layers; in the second, layers of bronze were deposited alternately with those of steel. According to the researchers, this work could be particularly interesting for the aerospace industry, especially in the construction of combustion chambers for aircraft and rockets.

It is not uncommon to combine two materials to take advantage of the best of their respective properties – for example this is the direction in which composite 3D printing is rapidly developing. In this particular case, the two were chosen thanks to their ability to complement each other. Bronze is known for its corrosion resistance, good electrical conductivity and high wear resistance. Steel, on the other hand, is resistant to breakage and impact, electrical deformation and has high hardness. This project is a first of its kind as it has created a bronze-steel alloy that was previously unknown to material science. And it is all thanks to additive manufacturing.

A 3D printed part that was made to test the mechnical properties of the new bronze-steel alloy (photo credits: Konstantin Makarenko/Skoltech

In concrete terms, the researchers used direct laser deposition (which works like directed energy deposition) to develop their project. First, they had to create an almost homogeneous alloy by mixing the two materials in a uniform manner. This alloy was then used by the machine to design several test parts. The other technique was to print “sandwich” parts, i.e. composed of layers of bronze and steel, each 0.25 millimeters thick. The researchers explain that they varied the amount of bronze each time – from 25 to 50% – while the steel content remained the same.

Professor Igor Shishkovsky of Skoltech explained: “3D printing is promising for manufacturing composite parts, endowed with the properties of the two distinct materials that make up the composite. Consider, for example, that steel is resistant to the high temperatures created by fuel combustion in an operating engine. This is great, but compared with bronze, steel is a modest thermal conductor, so the engine coolant cannot siphon heat away from it as effectively to prevent overheating and damage. Well, with 3D printing, you can actually get the best of both worlds by manufacturing a combustion chamber that seamlessly goes from being bronze on the inside for better temperature management to being steel on the outside for holding the structure together.”

A 3D printed part with a quasi-homogenous bronze-steel mix (photo credits: Konstantin Makarenko/Skoltech)

In the end, the study found that the materials fused well together and no anomaly was found. The researchers then conducted a series of tests to study the structural and mechanical properties of the new alloy using optical and scanning electron microscopy. Konstantin Makarenko, a fourth-year PhD student at Skoltech Materials, concludes, “Now that we have confirmed that steel and bronze can be combined in an alloy and are compatible with 3D printing via direct laser deposition, and we know the mechanical characteristics of the new material, we can explore its possible applications. Looking forward, I would like to manufacture and test a steel-bronze combustion chamber at Skoltech, but beyond that, other items are possible and other metal combinations could be used. The next step would be to create turbine blades made of a strengthened superalloy with cooling channels made of bronze. It’s all about combining the benefits of two distinct materials in one seamless product without any welding or other junctures.” We’ll be sure to keep you posted on the next steps in this project! In the meantime, you can find more information HERE.

What do you think of this new bronze-steel alloy? Let us know in a comment below or on our LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter pages! Don’t forget to sign up for our free weekly Newsletter here for the latest 3D printing news straight to your inbox! You can also find all our videos on our YouTube channel.

*Cover Photo Credits: Konstantin Makarenko

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