Bike3D announced that he is GRCop-42 qualifieda Nasa– Developed copper-chromium-niobium alloy, for use with Velo’s Sapphire line of metal 3D printers. Velo3D, a leading additive manufacturing (AM) startup based in Silicon Valley, specializes in producing AM solutions optimized for the aerospace and space industries. The company’s first demo parts printed from GRCop-42 will be on display at the Velo3D booth (#1508) at FAST + TST conference next week (May 17-19), in Detroit.
Texas based machine shop Knust Godwin, which already uses three Velo3D systems, will be the first customer to receive a Sapphire for GRCop-42. Besides Knust-Godwin, Velo3D noted in a press release that it has several other systems capable of printing with GRCop-42 currently on order. Along the same lines, CEO and founder of Velo3D, Benny Buller, said the company had “strong demand” for Sapphire machines capable of printing with the copper alloy.
The third most widely used industrial metal, copper is particularly appreciated by engineers for its resistance to corrosion and its thermal conductivity. These qualities make copper ideal for end-use applications involving extreme environments, and are indeed the two primary attributes that make the element so crucial to the space sector. It is therefore not surprising that, in its Copper Additive Manufacturing 2020 – Market Database and Insights report, SmarTech Analysis predicts that over 1.4 million kilograms of copper powder, both pure and alloyed, will be shipped by 2029. In that vein, as evidenced by testing to date, the initial intended use of GRCop-42 is for 3D printed rocket engines: the engines derive their strength from chromium and niobium, and their ability to remain constant after cooling thanks to copper.
The “GR” in “GRCop” stands for Glenn Research, in reference to the NASA Institute where GRCop-42 and its “predecessor”, GRCop-84, were created. As noted in an academic paper from 2019 on the application of GRCop-42 in 3D-printed combustion chambers for rocket engines, NASA began investigating the use of copper-chromium-niobium alloys for conventional production methods in 1987. The first testing led to GRCop-84 and GRCop-42 being “selected for further development”, which lasted until 2005. During this first phase, GRCop-84 was studied much more extensively than GRCop-42 .
The next phase of testing these materials for use in AM applications began in 2014, when NASA engineers began using GRCop-84 in the production of powder bed laser fusion combustors. (LPBF). In 2018, NASA began similar tests with GRCop-42, at which time the latter alloy quickly began to gain favor with engineers. In another research paper from 2019, the authors concluded“In this study, MSFC [Marshall Space Flight Center] and RCMP [Glenn Research Center] demonstrated that GRCop-42 is an easily printable alloy that can be additively fabricated into fully dense components with consistent properties at higher flow rates than its predecessor, GRCop-84.
Velo3D is one of the first companies to be able to sell machines capable of working with this alloy, which further strengthens the company’s place among the leaders in the space AM sector. And although GRCop-42 has so far been sought after for this particular purpose, now that systems capable of working with it are commercially available, new possibilities for using the alloy will no doubt be explored. This development is a good reminder of how long it has been in the making for the benefits that the 3D printing industry, as a whole, is finally starting to see.
Images courtesy of Velo3D
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