AM for Defense Industry

Desktop Metal develops high-volume manufacturing process for Cobalt-free hardmetal parts

Department of Defense funds multi-million dollar contract

Investigations by the U.S. Army Research Laboratory (ARL) to find a replacement for Cobalt (Co), traditionally used as a metallic binder material for cemented tungsten carbide (WC), has led to the development of a Co-free alternative binder. The Department of Defense now has awarded Desktop Metal with a three year project to develop a Additive Manufacturing process for producing Cobalt-free hardmetal parts, a much more sustainable alternative for hardmetals produced nowadays.

The project is issued to Desktop Metal by the U.S. Army Contracting Command – Aberdeen on behalf of U.S. Army Research Laboratory to the National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) Advanced Manufacturing, Materials & Processes (AMMP) Consortium. The new process has the potential to change the landscape of the growing carbide hardmetals market. This market is expected to grow to a $24 billion market by 2024.

The Production System as it has been developed by Desktop Metal until now.

Improving sustainability

“The novel Cobalt-free hardmetal grade is expected to yield a high strength, high toughness, high hardness, and high wear resistance material,” said Dr. Nicholas Ku, Materials Engineer, 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.”

This combined method will provide an environmentally-friendly process to mass produce parts with superior properties

High volume proces

Successful investigations by the U.S. Army in developing a novel iron-based nano material as the matrix in WC-based hardmetals, replacing Cobalt, has resulted in the development of a patented, novel Co-free WC-(Fe-Ni-Zr)-based hardmetals. In tandem with the creation of this promising new material for commercial and DoD applications, the ARL has been in search of a cost-effective, high volume process capable of manufacturing the new Co-free hardmetals into complex, net or near-net shaped parts without the use of any tooling. Desktop Metal Production System with Single Pass Jetting (SPJ) is expected to lead to the development of a dual use technology with numerous applications in DoD as well as in the civilian sector. It will mass manufacture complex shaped Co-free hardmetal parts without tooling.

Three major goals of the project

DoD awarded Desktop Metal Phase I of a three year $2.45 million dollar project. Among the goals and requirements of the project are the development of a feedstock and binder system; print with the Desktop Metal SPJ technology a sufficient quantity of components of at least 200,000 parts in one day from a single machine. The third goal is delivery of a cost analysis for scaling up its advanced SPJ binder jet manufacturing technique to successfully manufacture at least 500,000 prototype pieces of Cobalt-free hardmetal.

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Speeds that can rival high volume manufacturing technologies

Dr. Animesh Bose, Vice President of Special Projects for Desktop Metal, and a Fellow of ASM International and APMI International, will serve as principal investigator. With more than 40 years of experience in the processing of particulate materials, he is the author of over 125 publications in the area of P/M processing of advanced materials, authored and co-authored four books, and inventor or co-inventor of over 12 patents. “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,” said Dr. Bose.

The National Center for Manufacturing Sciences (NCMS) is a cross-industry technology development consortium, dedicated to improving the competitiveness and strength of the U.S. industrial base. “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.

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