Home Research & Education ORNL: First 3D-printed defect-free components made of tungsten withstand extreme temperatures

ORNL: First 3D-printed defect-free components made of tungsten withstand extreme temperatures

ORNL researchers used electron beam additive manufacturing to 3D print the first complex, defect-free tungsten parts with intricate geometries. The research was conducted at the DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL.

Tungsten is particularly suited for use in fusion reactors, where plasma temperatures can exceed 180 million degrees Fahrenheit. Due to its properties at room temperature, where pure tungsten is brittle and prone to fracture, previous manufacturing processes have presented a challenge.

The ORNL researchers’ solution: An electron beam 3D printer that deposits tungsten layer by layer into precise three-dimensional shapes. This technology uses a magnetically directed stream of particles in a high vacuum environment to melt and bond metal powder into a solid metal object. The vacuum environment reduces contamination from foreign materials and the formation of residual stresses, which is critical to ensure part integrity.

“Electron-beam additive manufacturing is promising for the processing of complex tungsten geometries,” said ORNL’s Michael Kirka. “This is an important step for expanding the use of temperature-resistant metals in energy resources that will support a sustainable, carbon-free future.”

The technology developed at ORNL’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility, supported by the DOE’s Advanced Materials and Manufacturing Technologies Office, is an example of efforts to transform U.S. manufacturing through collaboration and innovation. The success of this technology could have long-term implications not only for the energy industry, but for other high-temperature applications as well.

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