Original equipment manufacturer 3D Systems has been selected to create a saltwater corrosion plan as a part of a research project headed by the U.S. Department of Defense and two organizations, America Makes and the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, according to 3DPrintingIndustry.com.
Three-dimensional printing company 3D Systems was awarded a contract along with three other entities to develop a manufacturing guide and conduct research related to the Direct Metal Printing of nickel alloys for parts used in the maritime industry: Northrop Grumman's aviation and defense division, corrosion experts at the University of Akron and U.S. Navy aircraft carrier builder Newport News Shipbuilding. The company was selected because its DMP process has low oxygen content and produces parts of a quality high enough for industry standards.
The process of 3D printing nickel alloy inherently reduces the rate of corrosion in parts made through traditional manufacturing methods that require extensive heat treatment and use of machinery, according to the Magazine for Design-to-Manufacturing Innovation. Overall, the 3D-printing of such materials and associated guidance are being adopted as a means of reducing corrosion-related maintenance, production and shipping costs for maritime-based industries.
Reduced corrosion, increased savings through the use of additive manufacturing
All four contractors have also been charged with identifying the specific causes of corrosion in naval sea system platforms and high-speed weapons manufactured using nickel alloys, according to the magazine. Their work also includes an expected 240 tests comprising four different surface finishes and heat treatments to evaluate different routes of corrosion in assets exposed to saltwater.
Due to its aging and rusting fleet, the U.S. Navy has already been investing in research related to 3D printing – a form of additive manufacturing that has the ability to produce parts for equipment no longer available on the market. According to an initial estimate, corrosion of Navy ships cost the military branch more than $8.5 billion per year, with a 2016 study yielding results that showed costs closer to $20.6 billion.
Saltwater + rust = potential renewable energy source?
The project and recent corrosion-related research focusing on nickel alloys comes as other scientists at the California Institute of Technology have discovered that under certain conditions, saltwater and rust can be combined to produce kinetic energy, according to Cronkite News. Research partners Franz Geiger and Tom Miller found that the simple action of saltwater flowing over rust is capable of creating energy at an efficiency rating higher than most residential solar panels. The scientists' process has an efficiency rate of "about 30%" when converted to electricity, while the most efficient solar panels have a rating of of 22.8%.
While the process may be far off from being used to power entire homes, Geiger and Miller suggested that it could be capable of providing sufficient levels of power to smaller remote devices in the near-term. As a result, they say that following their discovery, the next challenge will be to find a way to develop and scale a design able to produce renewable energy for a variety of applications at various output levels.