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Computer Models to Boost 3-D Print Designs in Mfring

3-D print stress failure

Supporting structures failed for these four fatigue test bars. Stress buildup in the longer length bars created an excessive curling force on the outer edges of the support structures, resulting in fracture. (Albert To, University of Pittsburgh)

17 August 2016. An academic-industry team is developing computer-based methods to improve the design for three-dimensional printing of complex manufactured items. The project by University of Pittsburgh and manufacturing enterprise Aerotech Inc. is funded by a 3-year $350,000 award from National Science Foundation.

The team led by Pittsburgh mechanical engineering professor Albert To is seeking faster and more effective ways to design complex pieces for additive manufacturing, the industrial application of 3-D printing. Many manufactured goods are subjected to failure from stresses and distortions, which when 3-D printed may not become apparent until after components are tested. Uncovering and correcting these weaknesses in the design stage can pay-off quickly in saved time and materials.

To’s computational mechanics lab studies structural properties of materials, including statistical models applied to the mechanical behavior of materials used in 3-D printing. In this project, the Pitt team will investigate computer models for optimizing 3-D printing of complex pieces, particularly in accounting for stresses manufactured pieces may face.

The project is expected to apply inherent strain concepts — sources of stress in an item without external forces being applied — to devise models for predicting residual stresses and distortions in manufactured pieces made with 3-D printing. The initiative also plans to develop design techniques that optimize complex geometries in additive manufacturing for freeform surfaces and those needing further machining.

“By utilizing advanced mechanic theory,” says To in a university statement, “we hope to reduce design optimization of additive manufactured parts to minutes, thereby reducing the time of design life cycle. This would lead to wider adoption of additive manufacturing by the U.S. manufacturing base and further improve the economic sustainability of the additive manufacturing process.”

The research team includes Stephen Ludwick, a design engineer at Aerotech and adjunct engineering professor at Pitt. Aerotech is an international company developing motion-control systems for manufacturing, health care, automotive, military, and semiconductor industries. In the project, Aerotech will give real-world tests to the models and design techniques produced in the university labs.

Ludwick adds that “the tools developed through this collaboration will allow us to produce the complex parts enabled by additive manufacturing with a minimum of trial-and-error and rework. This in turn allows us to design stiff and lightweight components in our high-speed motion systems which are also used by other companies engaged in advanced manufacturing.”

NSF is funding the project through its Grant Opportunities for Academic Liaison with Industry, or Goali, program that encourages collaborations between universities and businesses to undertake advanced research that the companies would likely not fund themselves.

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