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Center Independent Research & Development: MSFC IRAD

Additive Manufacturing of Refractory Metal Nb Alloy C103 for Propulsion Applications

Completed Technology Project
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Project Description

Additive Manufacturing of Refractory Metal Nb Alloy C103 for Propulsion Applications

Refractory metals are a class of metals that are extraordinarily resistant to heat and wear. The primary member of the refractory metals are Nb, Ta, Mo, W, and Re. As one of the most dominate industrial refractory alloy, Nb C103 (89Nb-10Hf-1Ti), this precipitation strengthened niobium alloy is used in aerospace applications in sustained high temperature operating environments, particularly in the propulsion systems where regenerative cooling is not available. NASA Marshall Space Flight Center (MSFC) is involved in developing Additive Manufacturing (AM) methodologies primarily for of propulsion systems technology. AM shows great potential in producing complex and optimized components from an array of materials with potential to decrease cost and lead time when compared to traditional manufacturing. One area of development is the implementation of refractory materials for green propulsion, NTP, etc. Although Nb C103 is machinable by conventional subtractive process, it is expensive to machine them; whereas processes for forming sophisticated shapes, such as investment casting, are associated with extreme high cost and rarely applied have limited this alloy’s applications. In typical propulsion applications, when Nb C103 is used, more than 95% of the bar stock materials were removed to produce final part that is significant waste of expensive resources. Almost 100 percent Nb are imported. Metallic materials additive manufacturing, on the other hand, has taken the manufacturing industry by storm not only because it offers significant savings in cost, materials, and schedule but it also provides the ability to make geometrically complex monolithic parts that are unattainable or extremely difficult to make through conventional manufacturing processes. Among many additive processes the most prominent process is the powder bed laser layer-build additive process – Selective Laser Melting (SLM) also known as Laser Powder Bed Fusion (LPBF). The LPBF process not only can produce fine features that the other additive process such as electron beam powder bed fusion (EBPBF) cannot, but also can produce superior surface finish needing little or no secondary processing. The adaption of additive manufacturing for C103 would open up the alloy’s addressable market, and with AM’s efficiency in use the materials (high buy-to-fly ratio), could increase the competiveness of the C103 in the aerospace landscape and achieve significant cost savings. To harness this potential, this proposed work based on the previously successful initial assessment work by Castheon will further demonstrate the feasibility of additive manufacturing of C103 alloy using LPBF process to further mature processing parameters, shape building capabilities, assess the material integrity, post-process requirements, AM C103 materials properties, and establish design and application criteria to enable the AM production of C103 hardware. The successful demonstration of this work, affordable high performance material manufacturing, will also produces positive impact other refractory metal to be additively manufactured.

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