To carry out this new technique, the researchers use a laser to melt a mixture of powders. A reaction between the powders results in the formation of new particles that are 600 times smaller than the width of a human hair, around 100 nm. The reaction uniformly distributes them through the material, where they act as reinforcements.
The process is based on selective laser manufacturing (SLM), which allows parts with complex shapes to be easily produced. The new materials have very fine particles compared with other composites, making them more robust. The reaction between constituents releases energy, which also means materials can be produced at a higher rate using less power. This technique is significantly cheaper and more sustainable than other SLM methods which directly blend very fine powders to manufacture composites.
The new technique has the potential to manufacture aluminium composite parts as pistons, drive shafts, suspension components, brake discs and almost any structural components of cars or aeroplanes. It also enables the production of lighter structural designs with innovative geometries leading to further reduce of the weight of products.
 “This new development has great potential to make high-performance parts for car manufacturing, the aerospace industry and potentially other industries,” said Sasan Dadbakhsh, a Ph.D student at the University of Exeter. “Additive layer manufacturing technologies are becoming increasingly accessible, so this method could become a viable approach for manufacturing."
The centre for additive layer manufacturing (CALM) is a £2.6 million investment in innovative manufacturing for the benefit of businesses in the South West and across the rest of the UK. CALM is delivered in collaboration with EADS UK Ltd.
The team’s latest research findings are published in the Journal of Alloys and Compounds.