FAA and military turn to Auburn University for 3D printing research



Auburn University is partnering with federal aviation authorities to improve commercial air travel by increasing the reliability of 3D-printed metal aircraft components with two grants totaling $7.3 million.

Researchers at the National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence (NCAME) in Auburn are also working with the U.S. Army to improve combat readiness by advancing the adoption and implementation of additive technologies in Army operations.

NCAME helps both the military and the Federal Aviation Administration by closing gaps in additive manufacturing standards, which will ensure consistency in the durability and performance of 3D printed products and parts.

“Material variation is what I call the ‘Achilles heel’ of additive manufacturing,” said NCAME director Nima Shamsaei, Philpott-WestPoint Stevens Professor Emeritus of Mechanical Engineering at Auburn. “This can complicate the qualification and certification of additive manufacturing materials and parts. »

Researchers at the Auburn center want to crack the code as to why 3D-printed products made on different industrial-scale machines can have mismatched properties.

The goal: to generate reliable materials data to advance this revolutionary technology.

Established in 2017 through a partnership between Auburn and NASA, NCAME quickly developed a strong reputation in additive manufacturing research for the certification of 3D printed materials and parts. In this strategic niche, NCAME has established itself as an international leader, particularly in the field of materials used for space flight.

NCAME was a founding partner of the ASTM International Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence, which aims to advance technical standards, related research and development, education, training and more.

Advancing Technology

The center’s origins stem from GE Aviation’s decision in 2014 to locate a groundbreaking additive manufacturing facility in West Auburn’s Technology Park.

The state, the city of Auburn and the university joined forces to support GE’s ambitious decision to open the 3D printing operation, which became the aerospace industry’s first high-volume factory producing aircraft engine components using additive technologies.

“Alabama has been proactive in supporting advanced manufacturing in the state, and NCAME is a great example of the results of those efforts,” said Greg Canfield, Secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce.

“The growing expertise of this center is essential in our overall efforts to develop the cutting edge sector of additive manufacturing,” added Canfield, who has been involved in recruiting for GE’s 3D printing operation.

The work of NCAME researchers is important because critical parts for aerospace, defense and medical applications must be formally qualified before use. Extensive testing of complex surface topographies and internal defects can be costly and time-consuming.

Moreover, these concerns fundamentally undermine the key advantages offered by additive manufacturing, which is ideal for rapid prototyping and the production of complex shapes.

Additive partnerships

That’s why the military and FAA turned to NCAME.

The FAA said its $3 million partnership with the Auburn Center aims to improve safety by standardizing certification for existing and emerging structural applications of advanced materials.

Specifically, the FAA wants NCAME researchers to help develop additive manufacturing specifications related to understanding how the microscopic characteristics of 3D printed metal affect the fatigue and fracture properties of parts, as well as the problems variability in different production platforms.

“By understanding the sources of variability, controlling for them or accounting for them, we can generate more reliable materials data and more reliable AM ​​products,” said Shamsaei, director of NCAME.

With a $4.3 million grant from the Army, NCAME is launching a two-year project focused on qualifying materials, parts, and processes—elements needed to accelerate the adoption and implementation of the additive manufacturing in army operations.

Aaron LaLonde was a technical specialist for the U.S. Army’s DEVCOM Ground Vehicle Systems Center and helped facilitate the Army grant. He believes the project will be crucial in further integrating additive manufacturing into the military’s modernization and sustainment efforts.

“NCAME,” LaLonde said, “has become one of the major key players in additive research along these lines.”

(Courtesy of Made in Alabama)

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