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DoD awards Desktop Metal $2.45M to develop cobalt-free hardmetal AM process

Entering Phase I of the three-year joint project

Boston-based metal AM company Desktop Metal has been awarded a hefty $2.45 million grant from the Department of Defense (DoD) to develop an additive manufacturing process for the mass production of cobalt-free hardmetal materials. The metal grades, developed by the U.S. Army, will be processed using Desktop Metal’s Production System based on its proprietary Single Pass Jetting (SPJ) process.

Desktop Metal is now entering Phase I of the three-year DoD-backed project. The overall goal of the initiative is to utilize Desktop Metal’s technology to mass produce complex parts made from cobalt-free hardmetals without the need for tooling. This capability is expected to result in “a dual use technology” which the DoD and civilian sector could employ for various applications.

At the center of the metal AM project is a new material developed by the U.S Army: the patented Co-free WC-(Fe-Ni-Zr)-based hardmetal. The metal material is the result of an investigation into the development of a novel, iron-based nano material which could be used as the matrix in WC-based hardmetals instead of cobalt. To bolster the implementation of the new material, the DoD is seeking a cost-effective, high-volume process that can transform it into complex parts without the need for costly tooling.

“The novel Co-free hardmetal grade is expected to yield a high strength, high toughness, high hardness, and high wear resistance material,” explained Dr. Nicholas Ku, Materials Engineer at the CCDC Army Research Laboratory. “We believe combining this novel material with Desktop Metal’s Single Pass Jetting technology will have major applications not only in the defense sector but also in the commercial sector. Further, we believe this combined method will dramatically improve sustainability, reduce the use of a conflict mineral and provide an environmentally-friendly process to mass produce parts with superior properties.”

The newly launched project in cooperation with Desktop Metal has three key targets: to develop a feedstock and binder system for the Army’s novel cobalt-free hardmetal; to print at least 200,000 components in a single day using the material and Desktop Metal’s SPJ process; and to present a cost analysis for scaling up the SPJ binder jet process for the production of at least 500,000 prototype components.

Desktop Metal DoD cobalt-free hardmetal
Dr. Animesh Bose, Desktop Metal Vice President of Special Projects and a Fellow of ASM International and APMI International

On Desktop Metal’s side, Dr. Animesh Bose, its Vice President of Special Projects and a Fellow of ASM International and APMI International, will head the three-year project as principal investigator. Dr. Bose will leverage his extensive experience with particulate and advanced materials to develop process parameters and optimize the SPJ process for the Co-free hardmetal.

Dr. Bose said: “The success in this project will not only provide the hardmetal community with their eagerly desired Co-free hardmetal solution, but also result in the development of a tool-free processing technique capable of fabricating this class of materials into extremely complex shaped parts at speeds that can rival most other high-volume manufacturing techniques, opening up new horizons in the area of hardmetals and its applications.”

Carbide hardmetals are used in a range of dual use applications, such as cutting tools, abrasion and chemical resistant nozzles, as well to produce parts for the oil & gas, chemical, textile, agriculture, mining, steel, transportation, aerospace, defense, construction and consumer goods industries, among others. The joint project by the DoD and Desktop Metal has the potential to broaden and transform how these materials are processed, creating new applications and advancing existing ones.

“This effort exemplifies the ability of NCMS and AMMP to link cutting edge technologies of non-traditional defense contractors with government agencies to meet existing needs and requirements,” said NCMS’ CEO Lisa Strama. “We look forward to the lasting impact this initiative will have within AMMP, the Army, and the broader community driving innovative Co-free hardmetal solutions across the services and industry at large.”

The metal AM project was assigned to Desktop Metal by the U.S. Army Contracting Command – Aberdeen, Research Triangle Park, on behalf of U.S. Army Research Laboratory to the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) Advanced Manufacturing, Materials & Processes (AMMP) Consortium.

Tess Boissonneault

Tess Boissonneault is a Montreal-based content writer and editor with five years of experience covering the additive manufacturing world. She has a particular interest in amplifying the voices of women working within the industry and is an avid follower of the ever-evolving AM sector. Tess holds a master's degree in Media Studies from the University of Amsterdam.

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