The ExOne Company, North Huntingdon, Pennsylvania, USA, reports that it has reached a commercial license agreement with the U.S. Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Oak Ridge, Tennessee, USA, to produce Additive Manufacturing parts in aluminium-infiltrated boron carbide (B4C).
Researchers at ORNL developed the patent-pending method of Additive Manufacturing aluminium-infiltrated B4C on an ExOne M-Flex AM machine that uses Binder Jetting (BJT) technology to produce AM parts in metals, ceramics and other powder materials.
ExOne executed an R&D license for the manufacturing process in 2019. That license has now been expanded to commercial use so that the company can begin additively manufacturing aluminium-infiltrated B4C collimators, shielding equipment and other components used in neutron scattering research.
The team at ORNL, led by David C Anderson, Manager of Instrument Systems Engineering for the Second Target Station Project, developed a process to additively manufacture parts 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, a type of cermet. ORNL’s Amy Elliott is a co-inventor of this process and additional co-inventors of these technologies include Corson Cramer and Bianca Haberl, both of ORNL.
The development is said to be significant because aluminium-infused B4C has strong, yet lightweight properties, as well as neutron-absorbing characteristics that are particularly useful in neutron scattering instruments, which enable researchers to capture data down to the atomic level.
According to ExOne, using traditional methods, manufacturers face limitations in the shapes of collimators they can produce, which also limits the type of research and other work that could be achieved with them. The new method of creating B4C objects opens the door to new types of objects useful in deflecting or absorbing energy, which can protect people and the environment from radiation.
The intellectual property covered in the license agreement includes pending US patent application no. 16/155,134, entitled ‘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 the ongoing AM production of a variety of B4C matrix components used in neutron scattering experiments at ORNL.
The new B4C material also means that the company can now offer its customers a method of Additive Manufacturing a metal material that is lighter than bronze. ExOne’s metal AM machines, such as the Innovent+®, M-Flex®, X1 25Pro®, and X1 160Pro™ are capable of producing AM parts in more than twenty-two materials.