Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory

Lawrence Livermore is revolutionizing the design to product cycle with additive manufacturing, moving national security innovation forward. Unique to our approach to 3D printing is the integration of manufacturing expertise, materials science R&D and high performance computing capabilities.

3D printing metal parts and novel materials

Additive manufacturing is rapidly changing the design and production of all kinds of products, from jewelry to dentures to jet engine components to critical parts for nuclear weapons.

The President discussed the benefits of additive manufacturing in his 2013 State of the Union, in recognition of how additive manufacturing is changing the face of manufacturing.

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is the leader among Department of Energy laboratories in additive manufacturing. The Laboratory is not only applying additive manufacturing to its core mission of maintaining the nation's nuclear weapons stockpile but is also advancing the science, combining materials in new ways and creating materials with properties not found in nature.

At Lawrence Livermore, deep experience in precision engineering, materials science, and high-performance computing combine with a dedicated research and development program to revolutionize this new science. Examples of ways in which additive manufacturing is being applied to Laboratory missions include:

  • Catalyst-filled beads to capture carbon dioxide to mitigate climate change.
  • Parts for weapon surrogates in nonnuclear testing to keep the stockpile safe and secure.
  • New armor material for the warfighter.

Lawrence Livermore has been using additive manufacturing for years to make scale models with ABS plastic. The more recent move – since 2011 – into metals, ceramics, semiconductors, and novel combinations of materials, opens new opportunities for solving critical national security issues.

About additive manufacturing

Additive manufacturing, or 3D printing, uses a digital design to build three-dimensional structures by sequentially layering materials.

Contrary to what the name might imply, additive manufacturing requires less material than "subtractive" fabrication methods, such as machining or etching. It results in less waste, and in some cases is faster and more cost effective than standard manufacturing processes.

  • GE believes additive processes will produce 50 percent of all jet engine components within our lifetime. (Wohlers: 2012)
  • Gun enthusiasts are using digital files to readily print fully functional firearms in their homes.
  • The medical community is harnessing additive manufacturing for custom prosthetics and medical implants.

Additive manufacturing is already:

  • Accelerating the design-build-test cycle allowing the designer to immediately assess the viability of a product and incorporate design changes as needed.
  • Enabling production of innovative new customized materials and components with radically improved system performance.
  • Reducing cost and time to product for customized components.
  • Reducing long supply chains, manufacturing footprint, and waste associated with production.
  • Reducing the cost, effort, and skill barriers to produce complex parts.