Additive manufacturing—the practice of layering materials into various shapes—has numerous applications, from building prototypes to the science fiction potential of creating human organs from living tissue. Now the University of Pittsburgh is looking at new ways the process could benefit the U.S. Navy.

A research team at Pitt’s Swanson School of Engineering received a three-year $449,000 award from the Office of Naval Research (ONR) to explore next-generation metals for use in additive manufacturing. Led by Dr. Wei Xiong, assistant professor in the Swanson School’s Department of Mechanical Engineering and Materials Science, their research would primarily focus on creating a new type of high-strength, low-alloy (HSLA) steel ideal for naval construction and repair.

“This is the first solicitation that comes from a funding agency, and I think it’s a very important one,” says Xiong, adding that “there is no existing additive manufacturing product” for HSLA steel.

The funding came from ONR’s Additive Manufacturing Alloys for Naval Environments program, which looks to design, develop and optimize new metallic alloy compositions for additive manufacturing that are resistant to the corrosion caused by being exposed to the harsh sea environment.

Xiong and his team of Pitt researchers plan to develop a breakthrough HSLA metal powder and new toolkits that naval crews can potentially store on the ship and use while out on the water.

“If you have an additive manufacturing machine on the ship and the ship gets damaged, ideally people can directly repair the ship as opposed to going back to the harbor,” he says.

He adds that while this particular research study concerns naval operations, it would also advance the overall area of additive manufacturing by introducing a new, highly desirable metallic powder to the market.

“It’s really pushing the progress of the current additive manufacturing technique, but more on the materials side,” says Xiong.