3D printing and thermodynamic modeling help NASA develop a high-flying alloy

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The GRX-810 alloy was developed to make aerospace parts used for high temperature applications, such as inside aircraft and rocket engines. Image: NASA

According to a report posted on NASA’s website in April, innovators at the space agency used a 3D printing process to develop a new metal alloy that dramatically improves the strength and durability of aerospace components.

NASA calls the oxide dispersion-strengthened alloy GRX-810 and claims the material can withstand temperatures in excess of 2,000 degrees F and lasts more than 1,000 times longer than existing state-of-the-art alloys. (NASA did not provide details on the composition of GRX-810.) The new alloy is intended for aerospace parts used for high-temperature applications, such as inside aircraft and rocket engines.

To develop the alloy, the researchers relied on computer models to determine its composition. The team then leveraged 3D printing to evenly disperse nanoscale oxides throughout the alloy, which improves high-temperature properties and durability. This manufacturing process is more efficient, cost-effective and cleaner than conventional manufacturing methods, NASA reports.

The alloy has major implications for the future of sustainable flight. For example, when used in a jet engine, the higher temperature and increased durability of the alloy results in reduced fuel consumption and lower operating and maintenance costs.

And, at 2,000 degrees F, GRX-810 offers 3.5 times the flexibility of other advanced alloys.

“It used to be that an increase in tensile strength typically reduced a material’s ability to stretch and bend before breaking, which is why our new alloy is remarkable,” said Dale Hopkins, head of associate project of NASA’s Transformational Tools and Technologies project.

When used in a jet engine, the higher temperature and increased durability of the alloy results in reduced fuel consumption and lower operating and maintenance costs.

The team applied thermodynamic modeling and leveraged 3D printing to develop the new high-temperature alloy.

Tim Smith, a materials scientist at NASA’s Glenn Research Center in Cleveland and one of the inventors of the new alloy, said, “Applying these two processes has dramatically accelerated the pace of development of our materials. We can now produce new materials faster and with better performance than before.

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This turbine engine combustor (fuel-air mixer) was 3D printed at NASA’s Glenn Research Center and is an example of a challenging component that can benefit from GRX-810 alloy.

Hopkins added, “What used to take years through a process of trial and error now takes weeks or months to make discoveries.”

Using thermodynamic modeling, one of many computational tools discussed as part of NASA’s Vision 2040 study, the team discovered the optimal alloy composition after just 30 simulations.

The team applied thermodynamic modeling and leveraged 3D printing to develop the new high-temperature alloy, which dramatically accelerates the rate of material development.

The tool also eliminates dead ends by showing researchers not only the types of metals to incorporate, but also how much of each element to infuse into the composition.

“The performance of this alloy clearly demonstrates the maturity of the modeling tool and its ability to produce meaningful results,” said Steve Arnold, Materials and Structures Engineering Discipline Manager at NASA Glenn.

Click here to watch NASA’s “Additive Manufacturing Alloys for High-Temperature Applications” webinar.

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