Newswise — FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. – Gary Prinz, assistant professor of civil engineering at the University of Arkansas, has received a $500,000 Faculty Early Career Development award from the National Science Foundation to develop mathematical models to predict micro-level material fractures in steel alloys made by additive manufacturing, popularly referred to as 3-D printing.

The research could lead to building components that are better able to resist the damaging effects of earthquakes.    

The NSF award will allow researchers in Prinz’s Steel Structures Research Lab to measure microscale fracture behavior and isolate underlying mechanisms driving fracture in steel alloys created by additive manufacturing processes. These measurements will enable the researchers to develop analytical tools for accurately predicting macroscale ductile fracture in building components.

Additive manufacturing uses computers, machines and in some cases robots to build three-dimensional objects by layering materials, such as plastic, metal or concrete.

Current steel building components, such as beam links or braces, are designed to resist stresses caused by earthquakes. However, these components, which are made by traditional steel fabrication methods, often experience large strains that can lead to fatigue and ductile fracture. In a ductile fracture, internal material voids grow and coalesce into micro-cracks as the material undergoes significant stretching, similar to what happens to a piece of taffy when it is pulled. These cracks often limit the building’s ability to resist earthquake forces. 

Additive metal printing offers advantages in building component optimization, addressing the limitations of conventional fabrication by allowing for irregularly shaped, weld-free geometries. However, the material microstructures that form during the additive manufacturing process differ significantly from those of traditional metals. This means current mathematical models used to predict ductile fractures do not sufficiently capture the behavior of these new 3-D printed steels.

“Existing research on ductile fracture in additively-manufactured steel alloys is very limited,” Prinz said.

This research is made possible by the state-of-the art facilities at the University of Arkansas, which houses modern imaging technologies for scanning electron microscopy and transmission electron microscopy.

About CAREER Awards: The Faculty Early Career Development Program, better known as CAREER, is the National Science Foundation’s most prestigious award in support of junior faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, education and integration of both within the context of their institution’s mission. Research activities supported by CAREER awards build the foundation for a lifetime of leadership in integrating education and research.