3D Printed Damascus Steel Now Possible

Creating Damascus steel was once the preserve of secretive blacksmiths, who used special techniques and endless care to produce steel of exceptional quality.

Can it be 3D printed? Apparently yes.


(A close-up look at the layered metal (top left)
with atom-mapping analyses showing the dark flecks of precipitated
nickel-titanium. Graph at bottom right shows the make-up of the
dashed rectangle.
)

Traditional folded steels combined two steels that varied by carbon content and in their microscale structure, which is controlled by how quickly it cools (by quenching). In this case, the researchers were using a nickel-titanium-iron alloy steel that works well with these 3D printing techniques, in which metal powder is fed onto the work surface and heated with a laser.

Rapid cooling of this steel also produces a crystalline form as in quenched high-carbon steels. But further heat treatment leads to the precipitation of microscopic nickel-titanium particles within the steel that greatly increase its hardness—a pricey material called “maraging steel.”

The team’s idea was to use the layer-by-layer printing process to manipulate the temperatures each layer experienced, alternating softer, more flexible layers with layers hardened by that precipitation process. While printing a cubic chunk of steel, they did this simply by turning the laser off for a couple minutes or so every few layers. The top layer would rapidly cool, converting to the desired crystalline form. Then, as additional layers were added on top, temperatures in the crystalline layer would cycle back up, inducing the precipitation of the nickel-titanium particles.

I'm pretty enthused about the idea that science fiction materials might be creatable with someone with imagination and advanced 3D printers. Some of my favorite examples that might be 3D printable include Durite from Robert Heinlein's 1939 story Misfit, fanmetal from Frank Herbert's 1965 novel Dune, and Helio-Beryllium from Robert H. Wilson's 1931 story Out Around Rigel:

Eighty-eight swung some millions of miles further around the sun. The pock-marks on her face grew deeper, and were lined with Durite, that strange close-packed laboratory product which (usually) would confine even atomic disintegration.

Via High-strength Damascus steel by additive manufacturing and ArsTechnica.

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