Jun 15, 2016 | By Alec

Laser 3D printing is becoming increasingly popular in automotive and aerospace industries for its ability to realize immensely complex geometries at very fast rates. But the immense heat used to fuse metal particles together also has one side effect that is difficult to predict: warping that causes small deformities. This forms a major obstacle for systematic part qualification, thus preventing widespread adoption by commercial companies.

In an attempt to overcome this obstacle, The University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering has announced a collaboration with Canonsburg-based software developers Ansys Inc. In the new 1,200-square-foot ANSYS-Pitt Additive Manufacturing Research Laboratory in Pittsburgh, they will be seeking to develop new algorithms that accommodate deformities and compensate for them without affecting the overall quality of the metal prints.

As some of you might know, Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering is no stranger to metal 3D printing or its shortcomings. One of the leading engineering schools in the US, they have already received millions in contracts revolving around 3D printing over the last few years. Just last year, two Pittsburgh research projects received more than $1.7 million in funding from America Makes to explore more efficient 3D printed support structures. Their students and faculty members have also been using Ansys simulation software for years, and Ansys has extensive 3D printing experience already. “[3D printing] promises to bring manufacturing back to the U.S.,” Ansys chief marketing officer Mark Hindsbo said. “It really has broad applicability.”

This new initiative is thus building on a solid partnership, and the 3D printing lab is expected to be state-of-the art. The 1,200-square-foot laboratory will be equipped, they revealed, with the latest 3D printing equipment and simulation software and will focus on all aspects of the 3D printing process. Though the value of the Pitt-Ansys partnership was not disclosed, the lab is expected to cost several million dollars and is in part financed by grants from America Makes – the government-backed program that promotes industrial 3D printing and that is also keen to realize manufacturing standards for 3D printing.

At the top of their list of targets is 3D printing deformation. As Pittsburgh’s associate professor and CNG Faculty Fellow Albert To argued, 3D printing is a melting process at its core, so deformation caused by warping will lead them to the core of 3D printing. “The deformation can cause failure,” To revealed. “If a part deforms too much, you cannot use it. So how do you develop an algorithm to compensate?”

This is where Ansys comes in, who will provide the necessary software to Pittsburgh students and faculty members to explore all aspects of 3D printing. Specifically, To and his team will seek to perfect their laser 3D printing algorithm that is used to design components for specific functions. The upgraded algorithm should be able to predict deformation and how that will affect part performance. “We know how [to solve deformation problems],” To argued. “We just need to develop the new algorithms and find out whether our ideas will work. That will allow the industry to reduce the design cycle.”

The professor of engineering also argued that 3D printing could give a boost to the American manufacturing sector – in which millions of jobs has been lost over the past few years. To believes that 3D printers, though limited in use right now, could fundamentally change the sector once the technology improves and the material costs decline.

Ansys, meanwhile, is keen to use their software to educate the next generation of engineers, Mark Hindsbo revealed. He added that they believe they can also solve some industrial problems with 3D printing. “We're in a super interesting place in that Pittsburgh has that manufacturing heritage. And then you couple that with the computer software that we bring to the table and with the academic research that is going on at University of Pittsburgh, and I think you have an interesting cocktail," he said.

For those same reasons, Ansys has also partnered with Carnegie Mellon University earlier this month. Together with Carnegie Mellon University, also based in Pittsburgh, they will erect a 30,000-square-foot building also focused on educational manufacturing and design. “It is a deliberate focus on the partnerships with those fantastic institutions,” Hindsbo concluded. “There are some very, very interesting things happening in the next generation of manufacturing and computer science.”



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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