Tailored process gases for laser powder bed fusion

Sammanfattning: Metal laser powder bed fusion (L-PBF) allows for production of complex components using the energy from a laser to locally melt micron-sized powder following a layer-wise approach. Considerable scientific efforts are focused on addressing the influence of the process parameters on the melting stability and the control of material properties, while developing necessary monitoring and characterization tools. The importance of the process atmosphere has largely been undermined in favour of first order parameters connected to the laser scanning. The role of the atmosphere has been limited to the reduction of the operating residual oxygen level down to typically 1000 ppm. This thesis focuses on providing knowledge on the influence of the process atmosphere on the laser – metal powder interaction during L-PBF and the resulting properties of the built material in terms of generated defects, microstructure and mechanical properties. Different purities and compositions of generated atmospheres have been investigated to manufacture the most used materials in the field, namely 316L stainless steel, Alloy 718 and Ti-6Al-4V. The scope of process gases was extended from the traditionally employed argon to also include nitrogen, helium and mixtures of argon and helium. Purities from the typical 1000 ppm O2 threshold down to a few ppm were achieved using external monitoring of the atmosphere on both industrial- and laboratory-scale production machines. The investigated materials displayed different sensitivities to the atmosphere composition. 316L stainless steel had limited differences in terms of composition and strength when processed with high purity argon or nitrogen. Only processing with a built-in nitrogen generator, with which the process starts as soon as 10000 ppm residual O2 is reached, led to the increased oxidation of spatter particles and the appearance of large lack-of-fusion defects. A reduction in residual oxygen down to few ppm allowed to significantly hinder the development of thick Cr- and Al-rich particulate oxides on the surface of Alloy 718 spatter particles exposed to the L-PBF environment. In addition, Ti-6Al-4V had the highest sensitivity to the presence of impurities with significant oxygen and nitrogen pick-ups leading to embrittlement. This could be partially mitigated by limiting heat accumulation with longer interlayer time at the expense of productivity or by decreasing the oxygen level in the build chamber to below 100 ppm. Finally, helium was introduced as a new process gas that allowed to reduce the generation of spatter particles, favouring a stable melt pool, without significantly disrupting the residual stress state of the built part, which is critical for the productivity of L-PBF.

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