Selective laser sintering and post-processing of fully ferrous components
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Indirect additive processing of ferrous metals offers the potential to freeform fabricate parts with good surface finish and minimal dimensional variation from the computer solid model. The approach described here is to mix a ferrous powder with a transient binder followed by selective laser sintering (SLS) in a commercial polymer machine to create a “green” part. This part is post-processed to burn off the transient binder and to infiltrate the porous structure with a lower melting point metal/alloy. Commercially available SLSed ferrous components contain copper-based infiltrant in a ferrous preform. The choice of copper alloy infiltrant has led to inferior mechanical properties of these components limiting their use in many non-injection-molding structural applications, particularly at elevated temperature. In the present work, an attempt has been made to replace the copper-based infiltrant considering cast iron as a potential infiltrant because of its fluidity, hardness and stability at comparatively high temperature. A critical consideration is loss of part structural integrity by over-melting after infiltration as chemical diffusion of alloying elements, principally carbon, occurs resulting in a decrease in the melting temperature of tool steel preform. A predictive model was developed which defines the degree of success for infiltration based on final part geometry and depending on the relative density of the preform and infiltration temperature. The processing regime is defined as a function of controllable process parameters. An experimental program was undertaken using commercially available LaserForm[superscript tm] A6 tool steel that was infiltrated with ASTM A532 white cast iron. Guided by Ashby densification maps, pre-sintering of the A6 tool steel SLS part was performed to increase the part initial relative density prior to infiltration. The final infiltrated parts were analyzed for geometry, microstructure and hardness. The model may be extended to other ferrous powder and infiltrant compositions in an effort to optimize the properties and utility of the final infiltrated part.