UTSA Receives DoD Grant to Improve 3D Printing Reliability for US Military

Researchers at University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA) received a grant of $659,970 from the United States from the Ministry of Defense (DoD) Army Research Office to improve the reliability of metal 3D printing processes.

Using computer designs, the project seeks to improve the U.S. military’s capabilities to produce parts using additive manufacturing for critical machinery, including its aircraft.

“One of the challenges of metal AM is the difficulty of knowing with 100% certainty what the mechanical properties (such as stiffness and strength) of printed components are,” said David Restrepo, assistant professor in the engineering department. UTSA mechanics. “It is also difficult to predict or reduce the dimensional variability of components against design specifications.

“These challenges mean that printed parts cannot currently be certified for use in critical components – those that, if they fail, can compromise human lives.”

UTSA researchers Arturo Montoya, Harry Millwater and David Restrepo stand in front of the Renishaw 3D printer at Makerspace in the Science and Engineering Building. Photo via UTSA.

Adoption of 3D printing by the DoD

Since unveiling its first official additive manufacturing strategy in February last year, the DoD has awarded numerous grants and contracts to advance its use of 3D printing in various defense-related sectors.

Shortly after announcing its 3D printing policy, the DoD awarded the OEM of the binder jet 3D printer ExOne with a $1.6 million contract to develop a portable 3D printing factory capable of producing spare parts in the field. Housed in a 40-foot shipping container, the ‘ruggedized 3D printing module’ will be able to be deployed on land, at sea and in the air to support theaters of war, disaster relief and disaster relief missions. other remote operations.

The DoD has since granted a new round of funding to additive manufacturing data specialist Senvol to develop its Senvol ML award-winning machine learning software and 3D printed rocket maker relativity space an orbital launch contract to launch a payload into low Earth orbit (LEO) using its 3D-printed Terran 1 launch vehicle.

Most recently, the DoD awarded 19 university projects a total of $25.5 million to advance research into hypersonic flight technologies such as 3D printing. The contracts were given to the members of the University Consortium for Applied Hypersonics (UCAH) and will focus on composite aeronautical materials, flight control systems and solid propulsion fuels, among other areas.

The US DoD Inspector General has raised concerns about the cybersecurity of military 3D printing.  Photo via US Army.
The DoD announced its additive manufacturing strategy in February 2021. Photo via US Army.

Improved AM reliability

Led by Restrepo, the UTSA team is using the DoD grant to develop new computer designs that could lead to more reliable 3D printed metal products in the future.

While the customization and on-demand benefits of additive manufacturing are well known, the technology is still challenged in terms of part quality, especially in processes based on laser sintering. In particular, the researchers identified the uncertainty of mechanical properties and component stability as the powder cools and solidifies as a significant challenge in current 3D printing processes.

“We model the laser sintering process to predict the mechanical properties and dimensional stability of components fabricated with AM,” Restrepo said. “The unique ingredient of our models is a technology developed by UTSA for sensitivity analysis. This unique technology will allow us to predict the mechanical properties, reliability and qualifications of parts generated by AM. »

For the project, the team uses resources from UTSA’s Makerspace, including a Renishaw 3D printer. The machine will help researchers make parts and collect data that will prove the effectiveness of their computer models or reveal changes they need to make to their calculations.

“UTSA’s state-of-the-art Makerspace brings technology to students and faculty that dramatically expands the possibilities to research, explore and build,” said UTSA Professor Harry Millwater. “The Renishaw 3D printer is a cutting-edge tool that our students can work with throughout their careers as Roadrunners so they come out ready to contribute to their careers from day one.”

According to Restrepo, the DoD project is also an opportunity for university students to develop practical skills in the field of additive manufacturing and other advanced technologies. The UTSA Classroom to Career initiative is key to equipping students with the skills demanded by employers, and this will prove important in the future to address the current skills gaps in the additive manufacturing sector.

“Our students are provided with many opportunities to develop practical skills through experiential learning opportunities, such as this research project,” said JoAnn Browning, Dean of Klesse College at UTSA.

“Our new MakerSpace and the technology it houses only enhances the potential for students to engage in unprecedented research and design opportunities, right from the first year of their undergraduate degrees.”

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Featured image shows UTSA researchers Arturo Montoya, Harry Millwater and David Restrepo stand in front of the Renishaw 3D printer at Makerspace in the Science and Engineering Building. Photo via UTSA.