Research engineer Jonas Olsson is one of the researchers working with the powder bed technologies at University West.
University West has been researching additive manufacturing (AM) since the beginning of the 2000s and has built up advanced expertise in the field.
“There is a lot of research going on within AM around the world. But in 2017, when we started our investment in powder bed fusion technology, few researchers had specifically studied powder bed fusion AM for the superalloy 718. This is where we saw a need for more research”, explains Joel Andersson.
In 2017, University West began the three-year SUMAN-Next research project together with several industry partners and with funding from the Knowledge Foundation.
“We began from scratch and in three years we have become an international leader in the field.”
Most published articles
He notes that the University’s researchers have the most articles published in the field, and they have also been cited by many other researchers internationally.
“We already had extensive research experience in welding, thermal spraying, machining processing, and automation at the start of the project. With our cutting-edge expertise in these processes and in the 718 alloy, we have quickly been able to take decisive steps forward in the SUMAN-Next project. Above all, this has been made possible through the combination of advanced equipment, talented people, and collaboration between the University and industrial partners.
With the companies' different areas of expertise in their respective industries, we have gained a better understanding of what needs and requirements are relevant. This has been crucial in allowing us study the right things.”
Focus on superalloy 718
SUMAN-Next ran from 2017 until the summer of 2020. The overall goal has been to understand the connections among process, microstructure, and mechanical properties. The researchers have mainly focused on the superalloy 718, which can withstand high temperatures and loads. Superalloy 718 is a strategically important material because it makes up more than 50 per cent of the materials used in aircraft engines, for example. But the research results can also be applied to more material types and other industries, including the offshore industries.
“It is important to understand how high-temperature materials behave when producing components with this type of technology. How does the material handle being heated and cooled repeatedly; how does AM material behave during welding and during subsequent heat treatment; what type of post-processing works best and for which applications; and so on?”
Many benefits from AM
Interest from industry and researchers in additive manufacturing has increased exponentially over the past 10 years. Manufacturing products with this layer-on-layer principle has many advantages and creates completely new opportunities for many types of manufacturing industries.
“For example, you can produce more efficient and more environmentally friendly aircraft engines, since it is possible to use lighter designs and materials that can withstand higher temperatures. This results in engines with higher efficiency and, thus, lower fuel consumption.
Producing small series becomes more flexible and financially viable. Companies also see opportunities to reduce dependency on subcontractors and shorten production time by having production in-house or in the immediate region.”
Research continues in PODFAM
University West’s research on powder bed fusion metal-based additive manufacturing continues in the new large PODFAM research project, which will run for 8 years.