NASA Langley Research Center (LaRC) in Hampton, VA, and the Center for Welding, Joining, and Coating Research (CWJCR) in the Department of Metallurgical and Materials Engineering at the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) in Golden, CO, have collaborated for nearly fifteen years to develop metallic powder core tubular wire (PCTW) feedstock for additive manufacturing (AM) using electron beam deposition. The motivation for this development was to offset dealloying observed during deposition of titanium and aluminum alloy solid wire feedstock in the LaRC electron beam freeform fabrication (EBF3) system and to explore novel alloy compositions by tailoring the powder fill. EBF3 is a fusion-based AM process that is performed under vacuum and is consequently prone to vaporization loss of low vapor pressure alloying elements. Research spanning four graduate student research projects succeeded in developing the basic methodology to fabricate PCTW, the mass balance equations used to define the powder fill, microstructure control through particulate inoculation, and the feasibility of producing metal matrix composite materials.
Metallic PCTW is comprised of a thin foil sheath wrapped around a powder blend. Fabrication of PCTW at CSM was accomplished using a tubular wire mill system to first bend a flat strip into a u-shaped cross section, deposit a powder fill, create a lap joint to seal the wire, and draw to final diameter. Powder management systems were developed to ensure uniform mixing of powder constituents and identify feed rates for optimum fill ratios. Processing parameters were successfully developed for titanium and aluminum alloy sheaths to account for material work hardening during drawing. Mass balance equations were developed to account for compositional contributions of the sheath and powder fill.
PCTW composition can be adjusted through selection of the sheath or powder materials. PCTWs were successfully developed to offset Al loss in deposits of Ti-6-4 and Mg loss in Al 6061, resulting in deposits that were within the composition limits for each material. Ti-6-4 deposits were fabricated using PCTW comprised of commercially pure (CP) titanium sheath and a fill of pre-alloyed Ti-6-4 powder with additions of elemental Al and V powders. Additions of both elements were required to account for the CP Ti from the sheath, and Al was further enhanced to offset documented losses in EBF3 deposits. For Al 6061 deposits, composition was modulated through the choice of sheath material. The PCTW was made using an Al 5052 sheath to supplement Mg content and a fill composition of pre-alloyed 6061 powder with additions of Si and Cu.
The slower solidification rate of the EBF3 process compared with laser powder bed fusion processes can lead to coarse-grained microstructures and mechanical property anisotropy. EBF3 deposits of Ti-6-4 exhibited large epitaxially grown β grains, which result in degraded mechanical properties in the deposition direction. Microstructure refinement was achieved through a combination of electron beam modulation and the use of a PCTW designed for Ti-6-4 deposits and modified by the addition of powder made from Fe and B. Resulting deposits exhibited reductions in β grain size, α phase colony intercept length and lath width, and an increased volume fraction of β phase. The mechanism of microstructure refinement was related to precipitation of boride particles. Hardness testing confirmed that mechanical property anisotropy was reduced and an overall increase in hardness was achieved.
Metal matrix composite (MMC) materials offer strength and stiffness benefits over unreinforced materials. Two methods were investigated using PCTW technology for producing Al 6061 based MMC materials; the direct addition of SiC reinforcing particles and the in-situ generation of reinforcements through reaction synthesis of precursor powders. Al 6061 based MMCs reinforced with SiC exhibited particle clustering and formation of aluminum carbides during deposition. The application of a Ni coating to the SiC particles prior to incorporation into the powder fill eliminated aluminum carbide formation and aided particle distribution during deposition. Modulation of beam focus and power further reduced aluminum carbide formation and aided particle distribution. In reaction synthesis, precursor additions undergo an exothermic reaction during deposition to form new ceramic products, generally of finer scale than the initial precursor components. The product phases provide reinforcement in the MMC and act as nucleation sites during solidification, resulting in grain refinement, improved mechanical properties, and reduced susceptibility to solidification cracking. Higher tensile strength and stiffness were demonstrated in Al 6061 based MMCs with 2 vol% reinforcement.
These combined research efforts demonstrate the potential of PCTW technology for customizing of alloy composition and achieving microstructure control. A manufacturing process for titanium- and aluminum-based PCTWs was developed based on iterative design, theoretical calculations, and empirical data. PCTW technology successfully mitigated Al loss from Ti-6-4 and Mg loss in Al 6061, resulted in grain refinement in Ti-6-4, and demonstrated fabrication of Al based MMCs.