ILMA Compoundings - May 2020 - 31

3D

printing, the process
of creating a physical
object from a digital file
by "printing" successive layers using
various materials, has until recently
held little relevance for lubricant
manufacturers. The process and the
printers themselves provide virtually
no opportunities for lubricant use.
"According to what I have researched,
there are no lubricants utilized in the
printing process - so, not a great
market for lubricant manufacturers to
be focusing on," acknowledged Peter
Gottlick, president of CGF Inc.
While that aspect of 3D printing
remains unchanged, the printers
themselves have advanced significantly
over the last five years. They are no
longer just machines for hobbyists
printing resin-based model parts or for
manufacturers printing plastic production samples and prototypes. Modern
3D printers, also known as additive
printers, are producing actual working
parts for the aerospace, automotive
and medical industries. Significantly
for lubricant manufacturers, some
parts are now being printed using
metals and metal alloys that enable
significant weight reductions and better heat dispersion than traditionally
forged or cast metal parts.
"If 3D metal fabrication really
becomes popular, the big question
is, will people still need traditional
metalworking lubricants?" said
Nicole Clarkson, global segment lead,
metalworking fluids, with ANGUS
Chemical Co. "And if we don't, what
will we need instead? What should our
chemists be thinking about when it
comes to alloys and possible interactions? Is there a different product that
we can now start using or need to start
developing for that space? And, of
course, there are always the concerns
about how much it is going to cost.
This is something that everyone in the
industry should discuss."

Questions and Concerns
At its most basic level, additive-metal
printing works by substituting powdered metals and metal alloys for the
ink used in a standard inkjet printer.
Those powders are melted to the point
that they can be finely sprayed out in
layers until they perfectly replicate a
digital file in a 3D object.
A 2017 study published in the journal Nature noted that "metal-based
additive manufacturing, or [3D]
printing, is a potentially disruptive
technology across multiple industries,
including the aerospace, biomedical
and automotive industries. Building
up metal components layer by layer
increases design freedom and manufacturing flexibility, thereby enabling
complex geometries, increased product
customization and shorter time to
market, while eliminating traditional
economy-of-scale constraints. However, currently only a few alloys ... can
be reliably printed; the vast majority
of the more than 5,500 alloys in use
today cannot be additively manufactured because the melting and
solidification dynamics during the
printing process lead to intolerable
microstructures with large columnar
grains and periodic crack."
Since the technology's introduction,
those imperfections have led to concerns about the end products' viability
for critical applications.
"For us at ANGUS, powdered
metals are a big question mark," said
Clarkson. "They are different from
traditional metal formulations, and
because of that, we don't know what
their properties may be when it
comes to corrosion, strength, brittleness. Lubricant manufacturers may
need to adjust their formulations
to address those new variables. We
don't know if every one of these
3D-printed pieces will even require a
lubricant. It's possible that a lubricant
element could be layered in during

the printing of the piece, becoming
part of the finished product."
More testing will need to occur
before all of these questions can be
answered. However, the last three
years have seen significant advances
when it comes to creating additive-manufactured metal parts capable
of meeting the demands of high-pressure, high-stress applications.

Quality and Quantity
"This technology is really excellent
when companies are looking to
produce low-volume specialty parts,
one-off replacement parts or prototype
parts," Gottlick said. "But it can't [yet]
compete with high-volume [computer
numerical control] machines when
companies are looking to produce
thousands of the same piece.

"It's possible that a lubricant
element could be layered in during
the printing of the piece, becoming
part of the finished product."
Nicole Clarkson, global segment
lead, metalworking fluids, ANGUS
Chemical Co.

31



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