Sky is the limit: Nuclear Engineering’s new 3D printer offers unlimited possibilities
Tucked into a corner of a semi-cluttered room in Bldg. 362 sits the Nuclear Engineering Division’s latest technology acquisition, the ProJet 660Pro 3D printer, an efficient large-build, full-color 3D printer. It creates finely detailed, photorealistic color models at a resolution of 600 x 540 dpi with a minimum feature size of 0.004 inches. Operated by the Engineering Services Group, it is thought to be the largest 3D printer on Argonne’s campus, and it has been used to make intricate models of nuclear reactor cores, nuclear facility buildings and fuel transportation shielding casks (see photos below).
In his 2013 State of the Union Address, President Obama declared that 3D printing “has the potential to revolutionize the way we make almost anything.” Designing/Drafting Group Leader Daniel Prokop (NE) agrees, saying, “It’s almost phenomenal. I can tell you this thing has a lot of people’s attention, and the possibilities are unlimited.” While the focus so far has been on component and architectural rendering, using color to differentiate elements of the model, Associate Division Director Tom Ewing (NE) says, “The full-color capability offers exciting opportunities for incorporating data visualization from simulations into design prototypes. Imagine a 3D cutaway of a reactor core that opens up to reveal core components that have color contours for temperature, flow or neutron flux distributions.” He foresees using the 3D printer for all kinds of research and development projects across Argonne, including exhibits for conferences, displays for the Visitor Center, and even a display of Argonne’s campus of the future, complete with renderings of site buildings, roadways and surrounding grounds.
The printer produces models from any computer-aided design program as long as the program converts to a stereolithography (STL) file. It has a build size of 15 inches long by 10 inches wide by 8 inches high, but overall size is not limited since much larger objects can be assembled by using subparts as building blocks. Once programmed, the printer builds the model layer by layer from a liquid polymer that hardens on contact with laser light.
After the model is printed and cleaned, it is immersed in a vacuum impregnating system using a cyanoacrylate as a catalyst, commonly known as liquid surgical superglue. This process takes the air out of the model, hardening it for handling and in some cases functionality.
All models can be sanded, drilled, tapped and electroplated and have high-temperature resistance for use in molding. They can also have moveable parts, hold liquids and hold a 0.002 tolerance.
Small pieces print in as little as an hour, while intricate and larger pieces may require up to 15 hours. The printer can be set to run overnight without supervision.
Among the models shown here are an electrorefiner, created for the Landmark-CRADA Project; a full size horizontal cut-away model of EBR-1; and the Belarus Reactor, made with a total of 264 pieces, 48 pieces that make up the base, outer containment and inner support structure, plus 216 central fuel rods. This model is 20 inches in diameter and 23 inches high and weighs approximately 15 pounds.
The printer is available for projects labwide through Argonne’s Engineering Services group. Contact Dan Prokop at ext. 2-7730 for additional information.
Photo credit: Mark Lopez