The ExOne Company, North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, USA, has reported that it has licensed a patent-pending method of additively manufacturing aluminium-infiltrated boron carbide (B4C) collimators and other components used in neutron imaging from Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA.
Following the announcement of their collaboration project, researchers at ORNL developed the Additive Manufacturing method on the ExOne M-Flex®, a metal AM system that uses Binder Jetting technology to produce additively manufactured objects in stainless steel, bronze or tungsten, as well as sand, ceramics and composites.
The ORNL team, led by David C. Anderson, Group Leader of Instrument Engineering, developed a process to additively manufacture objects in B4C, a neutron-absorbing material, and then infiltrate the objects with aluminium. The final aluminium-infiltrated B4C material is known as a metal-matrix composite (MMC), a type of cermet. ORNL’s Amy Elliott and Bianca Haberl are co-inventors of the process.
According to ORNL, the development is significant because aluminium-infused B4C has strong but lightweight properties, as well as energy-absorbing characteristics that are useful in neutron scattering instruments, which enable researchers to capture data down to the atomic level.
ExOne states that it plans to use the license to commercialise the AM production of aluminium-infiltrated B4C objects, such as shielding equipment and components used in neutron scattering instrumentation.
Dan Brunermer, Technical Fellow at the ExOne Company, commented, “It delivers results that X-rays can’t. Neutrons can detect light elements, like hydrogen or water, but they also penetrate through heavy elements like lead, which enables analysis of complex processes in-situ.”
The intellectual property covered in the license agreement includes pending U.S. patent application no. 16/155,134, titled ‘Collimators and Other Components from Neutron Absorbing Materials Using Additive Manufacturing,’ as well as two additional provisional filings. Under the agreement, ExOne will also engage in ongoing AM production of a variety of B4C matrix components used in neutron scattering experiments at ORNL.