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HRL Tells All About Ceramics AM Development for NASA and Commercial Space Apps

For more than 60 years, HRL’s scientists and engineers have been on the leading edge of technology, conducting pioneering research, providing real-world technology solutions, and advancing the state of the art. The firm continues to be recognized as one of the world’s premier physical science and engineering research laboratories.

Research collaborations with LLC Member companies, government, commercial and academic institutions are realizing groundbreaking advances in ultra-high-performance circuitry, robust computing and communications, automated data extraction, and innovative architected materials. Our technologies operate in space, on aircraft, in automobiles, and in a variety of consumer products.

In September HRL Laboratories was selected as a 2017 R&D 100 Finalist for its Additively Manufactured High-Temperature Polymer-Derived Ceramics. This breakthrough in additive manufacturing was originally published in the January 1, 2016 issue of the journal Science. The HRL technology is a new preceramic polymer resin for additive manufacturing of ceramics that overcomes the limitations of traditional ceramic processing.

HRL’s preceramic polymers can be cured in a layer-wise fashion on off-the-shelf desktop stereolithography systems.  The cured preceramic polymer is then heated to 1000°C in an inert atmosphere furnace, converting the material into a high-strength, fully dense ceramic that retains the geometric complexity of the original polymer part. This process enables the HRL team to harness the design freedom of additive manufacturing in creating components of virtually any shape and size that can withstand temperatures in excess of 1700°C and are ten times stronger than similar materials.

We caught up with HRL’s Michele Durant to learn more about the possibilities offered by this innovative approach to advanced ceramics manufacturing

Which ceramic materials is HRL working on for AM processes?

“We are developing preceramic polymers for silicon based ceramics, such as silicon oxycarbide, silicon carbonitride, and silicon carbide.”

Which AM technologies are you working for processing these advanced ceramics?

“HRL Focuses primarily on UV cure printing processes such as stereolithography, but we are investigating additional uses such as binder jetting, ink jetting, and extrusion processes.”

Which do you view as the most interesting applications/industrial segments for 3D printed ceramic parts?

“HRL is interested in and currently developing this technology to support the shift of space travel from a government to an industrially driven industry. Additive manufacturing of ceramics has the potential to drastically reduce time and cost of fabrication for components suitable for extreme environments such as hot structures, nozzles, engine components, and sensor shielding. The technology is not limited to this field, and we believe there are applications in many industries including medical, electronics, and industrial processing.”

Has your research already led to specific commercially available additively manufactured ceramic products, parts and components?

“We have been approached by many organizations interested in using this capability for developing products. HRL is currently working on commercializing this material to make it available.  Once done, products are expected to shortly follow.  HRL anticipates putting potential products into use in testing in the coming year.”

How much do you think the market for ceramics AM products can grow?

“The market for ceramic additive manufacturing is very new and so of course very challenging to accurately predict. But what additive manufacturing does to expand the design capabilities for metals and polymers is even more important for ceramics.  Due to their high melting point and strength, ceramics are challenging to cast or machine and thus generally rely on powder, slurry, or vapor processing approaches. These approaches limit the achievable architecture and can lead to very high manufacturing cost. Additive manufacturing has the potential to change that and thus could revolutionize the ceramics industry, greatly expanding its market size.”

Can you provide additional details on your partnership with NASA?

“HRL has received an award as part of NASA’s Space Technology Research, Development, Demonstration, and Infusion program to develop additive manufactured ceramic rocket engine components.”

Copyright HRL Laboratories, LLC – 2017

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