March 9, 2015
Other Voices

Additive manufacturing offers CT ways to expand traditional product development

Tom Maloney

In the HBJ Economic Forecast issue published Dec. 22, 2014, the manufacturing section included an "Experts Corner" article by Rainer Hebert, director of the UConn-Pratt & Whitney Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center and an associate professor in the UConn Department of Materials Science & Engineering that focused on the use of additive technology in full-scale production and positioned Connecticut as an emerging additive manufacturing leader.

Beyond full-scale production, additive technology is, and can be, used for pushing the design and manufacturing envelope beyond traditional manufacturing, into new frontiers for product development.

With additive technology, existing parts can be repaired or modified, yielding finished or near net shaped parts. New designs can be rapidly created, tested, and revamped, dramatically reducing time and cost of development. A variety of materials can readily be developed, melded and tested to yield specific performance characteristics such as flexibility, rigidity, light weight, or high temperature. Complex geometries are transformed within hours into 3D parts using plastics, metals or a mix of materials.

The boundaries of what could be made through traditional manufacturing processes are being shattered with additive technology.

At the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology's (CCAT) Advanced Manufacturing Center, we're using additive directed energy deposition technology to help companies in the medical, energy, aerospace and defense industries develop new products, repair and enhance existing parts and research new materials faster and at lower costs than ever before.

It's this potential for limitless innovation at lower costs and reduced timeframes that is the true future of manufacturing.

Cladding new material onto a worn area of a part through additive manufacturing requires a fraction of the energy used in conventional welding processes. In fact, some parts considered non-repairable because of the intense heat needed to repair them are now being successfully restored. This was the case for East Granby-based Barnes Aerospace. The AMC team developed an additive parts repair and modification process that succeeded where conventional welding processes had failed.

Using CCAT's 3D multi-material printer, startup LambdaVision Inc. created a prototype surgical tool for retinal implants that eye surgeons were able to test. Based on test results, the tool design was modified within days, including altering the flexibility of the tool made with rubber-like materials.

In today's energy-efficiency focused world, the demand for materials that are lighter in weight, less dense and can perform at higher temperatures is growing rapidly. Through additive technology experimentation, CCAT is helping The NanoSteel Co. Inc. modify metals to achieve the characteristics their customers are seeking.

According to Harald Lemke, a vice president and general manager at The NanoSteel Co., "CCAT's Advanced Manufacturing Center's expertise and capabilities have accelerated the development of our powder platform in additive manufacturing providing key learning and data sets that will propel commercialization in general industry markets."

Although additive manufacturing allows for the production of near-complete shaping of parts, additional finishing or smoothing steps using traditional milling or turning machines are often required. When combined technologies are needed, the result is, in effect, a new hybrid manufacturing process. As more companies start integrating additive technology, hybrid manufacturing will be recognized as the new normal.

Additive technology is fueling a manufacturing revolution — not just speeding up an existing process but enabling engineers and designers to think of product realization in ways never before possible, with material combinations that may not have existed before.

Tom Maloney is the chief technology officer of the Connecticut Center for Advanced Technology.

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