Additively Manufactured Aluminium Alloys: History
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Subjects: Others

Metal additive manufacturing (MAM), also known as metal 3D printing, is a rapidly growing industry based on the fabrication of complex metal parts with improved functionalities. During MAM, metal parts are produced in a layer by layer fashion using 3D computer–aided design models. The advantages of using this technology includes the reduction of materials waste, high efficiency for small production runs, near net shape manufacturing, ease of change or revision of versions of a product, support of lattice structures, and rapid prototyping. Numerous metals and alloys can nowadays be processed by additive manufacturing techniques. Among them, Al-based alloys are of great interest for the automotive and aeronautic industry due to their relatively high strength and stiffness to weight ratio, good wear and corrosion resistance, and recycling potential. The special conditions associated with the MAM processes are known to produce in these materials a very fine microstructure with unique directional growth features far from equilibrium. This distinctive microstructure, together with other special features and microstructural defects originating from the additive manufacturing process are known to greatly influence the corrosion behavior of these materials. Several works have already been conducted in this direction. However, a number of issues concerning the corrosion and corrosion protection of these materials are still not well understood. This work reviews the main studies to date investigating the corrosion aspects of additively manufactured aluminium alloys. It also provides a summary and outlook of relevant directions to be explored in future research.

  • Metal additive manufacturing
  • aluminium alloys
  • corrosion behavior
  • microstructure
  • corrosion protection

1. Introduction

Metal additive manufacturing (MAM), commonly known as metal 3D-printing, is a process by which complex multifunctional metal parts are produced in a layer by layer fashion using 3D computer-aided design (CAD) models [1][2][3][4][5][6]. Several MAM techniques are available. They can be separated into two main groups: direct energy deposition (DED) methods and powder bed fusion (PBF) technology [7]. During direct energy deposition, focused thermal energy is used to fuse materials by melting as they are being deposited; while during powder bed fusion, thermal energy selectively fuses regions of a powder bed [7]. DED processes such as wire arc additive manufacturing (WAAM) and laser metal deposition (LMD) can generally be used on existing parts of arbitrary geometry with a relatively high deposition rate; however, the shape complexity is limited. This makes DED processes the preferred methodology for repairing or improving existing parts [8]. On the other hand, on PBF methods such as selective laser melting (SLM), selective laser sintering (SLS), and electron beam melting (EBM), the dimension of the pieces is limited and the starting substrate has to be a flat surface. However, they generally allow the fabrication of pieces with extremely high structural complexity at a relatively high level of precision. Among the several MAM processes, those utilizing a metal powder feedstock and a laser source to achieve the metal fusion are the most widely used [1][2][3][4][5][6]. From those, SLM is regarded as the most used and studied MAM method. This is not only because it allows a higher level of precision compared to other MAM techniques, but also because (in contrast to SLS) it allows the full melting of the material, and therefore the production of solid and dense metal parts in a single process (without the need to use binders and/or other post-process furnace operations).

Additive manufacturing is considered one of the enabling technologies for Industry 4.0 [9]. In particular, MAM presented a global market valued at € 2.02 billion in 2019 [10]. This included systems, materials, and services. MAM allows the near-net shape manufacturing of geometrically complex parts such as lattice structures and 3D structures with undercuts or cavities, which is why this technology has found numerous applications in industries such as medical implants, energy, aerospace, and automotive. As an example in aerospace applications, MAM has made possible the re-design of complex fuel injector nozzles (commonly requiring the assembly of more than 20 parts) in a single operation [11][12], as well as the re-design of several other complex engineered parts, resulting in considerable cost and weight reduction. In aerospace, as well as in the automotive industry, MAM is also actively used in prototyping and the fabrication of custom tooling.

Nowadays, a great number of metals and alloys can be processed by additive manufacturing techniques, depending mainly on the availability of the raw materials as metal powders or metal wires [5]. Amongst these, aluminium alloys are of great interest for applications requiring high strength and stiffness to weight ratio, good wear and corrosion resistance, and recycling potential, which is why they are attracting increasing attention of the automotive and aerospace industries [12][13]. The most common Al-based alloys processed by additive manufacturing (AM) either for commercial use or for research purposes are [5][14][15]: AlSi12, AlSi10Mg, AlSi7Mg0.6, AlSi9Cu3, AlSi5Cu3Mg, AA1050, AA2017, AA2024, AA2219, AA6061, AA7020, AA7050, AA7075, and AA5083; next to proprietary industrial alloys like Scalmalloy. From those, Al-Si alloys, and more specifically AlSi10Mg (followed by AlSi12), are undoubtedly the most investigated and commercially used additively manufactured Al-based alloys. These materials, particularly relevant for light-weight and high-strength applications, are widely used for aluminium casting due to the proximity to the eutectic composition (~12.5% Si) [16]. Therefore, they are relatively easy to process by laser applications, which are known to lead to a small solidification range [17]. Additionally, minor additions of magnesium (0.3–0.5 wt.% Mg) are known to induce hardening of the alloy by forming Mg2Si precipitates upon natural or artificial ageing treatments [18]. However, the actual formation of these precipitates on additively manufactured Al-Si parts is still a topic of discussion.

Due to the special conditions of the MAM processes (namely that the metal powder used is already pre-alloyed, and the melting occurs in small pools that rapidly solidify), a very fine microstructure with unique directional growth features far from equilibrium is achieved [1]. This distinctive microstructure, together with other special features and microstructural defects originating from the additive manufacturing process is known to greatly influence the corrosion behaviour of these materials. Sander et al. [19] and Kong et al. [20] reviewed the impact of these special features and defects on the corrosion performance of additively manufactured metals. These works also consider the main corrosion issues of several additively manufactured materials, including some studies on Al alloys. Zhang et al. [17] presented a review of Al-based alloys summarizing the microstructural characteristics and mechanical properties. Chen et al. [21] reviewed the main research studying the corrosion behaviour of selective laser melted Al alloys, classified/structured by the used technique.

2. Al-Si Alloys

2.1. Effect of Microstructure on Corrosion Behavior

Several studies characterizing the microstructure of as-built additively manufactured Al-Si alloys have been conducted in recent years [22][23][24][25][26][27][28][29][30][31][32]. As-built specimens exhibit a fine distribution of Si, forming a three-dimensional network that encloses the primary face-centred cubic α-Al in very small cells (see Figure 1). The size of these cells varies over the melt pool due to the thermal gradient created by the moving heat source. Finer cells are formed towards the middle of the melt pools (MP), while coarser cells are present in the melt pool borders (MPBs) [25]. A marked anisotropy has been described in past studies concerning the shape of these cells. These cells are known to present an approximately round shape in the plane parallel to the building platform (XY), whereas in the plane perpendicular to the building platform (XZ) more elongated cells have been observed [25][31]. A heat-affected zone (HAZ) located right outside the borders of the melt pools has also been identified (see Figure 1). This HAZ, in which the silicon network is partly broken and discontinuous, has been associated with overheating of the underlying layer during the scanning of a newly deposited layer [25].