3D Systems launches copper-nickel alloy for use with Metal 3D printing

Various pipe fittings printed by Newport News Shipbuilding using Certified CuNi30 material on 3D Systems' Direct Metal Printing hardware.

Copper-nickel (CuNi) materials are alloys of copper that contain nickel and strengthening elements, such as iron and manganese. Despite its high copper content (which typically varies from 60 to 90%), cupronickel is silver in colour. This alloy is known for its ability to be processed by melting, casting, heat treatment, machining or even surface treatment.

In the AM industry, no company had succeeded yet to qualify Copper-nickel for use with metal 3D printing until 3D Systems. The Additive Manufacturing giant unveils a corrosion-resistant, copper-nickel alloy for use with Laser Powder Bed Fusion. Named CuNi30, the material has been developed as part of a collaboration with HII’s Newport News Shipbuilding division and is already qualified for use with its DMP Flex 350 metal 3D printer.

HII is an all-domain defense and technologies partner, recognized worldwide as America’s largest shipbuilder. Through this collaboration, Newport News Shipbuilding will be the first 3D Systems’ partner to use additive manufacturing and CuNi30 in place of its traditional casting technologies. Direct metal printing parts using CuNi30 will help the shipbuilder to meet low-volume, high-mix hardware needs while improving supply chain efficiency – with an anticipated 75% reduction in lead times as well as lowered inventory costs.

We’re excited to announce the completion of a significant milestone in the development of a CuNi alloy with 3D Systems,” said Dave Bolcar, vice president of engineering and design for Newport News Shipbuilding, a division of HII. “Earlier this year we completed a multi-year effort with 3D Systems related to the research and development of a Corrosion Performance Design Guide for Direct Metal Printing of a nickel-based alloy. We’re looking forward to continuing to expand our parameter development efforts with 3D Systems into other alloys of interest to our industry. These developments allow us to further expand the use of additive manufacturing into our platforms in ways that provide positive quality, schedule, and performance benefits to the customer.”

As far as applications are concerned, it should be noted that copper-nickel alloys are used extensively in salt water, petroleum, and acidic environments due to the material’s excellent corrosion resistance, and its anti-microbial and anti-algae properties that enable resistance to algae growth during extended exposure to water. CuNi30 is often used to manufacture pipe fittings and valves for the marine (e.g., shipbuilding and repair), offshore oil and gas, and chemical and nuclear industries. These alloys also possess stable mechanical, physical, and thermal properties (from 400°C down to -270°C) which make them suitable for cryogenic applications. CuNi alloys are historically difficult to cast, which often adds costly cycles of rework and reinspection to meet quality standards. This leads to very long lead times and a limited number of capable and willing suppliers who can support production of quality hardware. HII recognized the potential to realize significant benefits if the DMP hardware, material, and process could be qualified for their production components, and partnered with 3D Systems to make this a reality.

 “3D Systems has earned a reputation as a trusted partner for advanced R&D and commercialization of novel additive manufacturing materials and applications,” said Dr. Michael Shepard, vice president, aerospace & defense segment, 3D Systems. “We’ve had a decades-long relationship with the U.S. Navy which has helped drive innovation for a variety of applications including aircraft parts and submersible components. Our latest project with Newport News Shipbuilding yielded a copper-nickel alloy specifically designed for AM that results in better part density and mechanical properties as compared to traditional casting. We look forward to seeing how direct metal printing and CuNi30 will be able to accelerate Newport News Shipbuilding’s production workflows and its innovation pipeline.”

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