Oct 5, 2016 | By Alec

The results are in. The inaugural America Makes Innovation Sprint, a national competition that aims to encourage research in support of America Makes’ Technology Roadmap, has been won by a team from Virginia Tech’s Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems (DREAMS) Lab. The team, featuring undergraduate and graduate students, developed a 3D printed smart wing section with integrated sensing and actuation features – which could allow aircraft to autonomously adapt to flying conditions.

With this 3D printed smart wing, the DREAMS Lab team was a logical candidate for this America Makes competition. The Youngstown, Ohio-based America Makes is the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, part of the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining (NCDMM). As America’s leading institute for the support of 3D printing research, America Makes enters public-private partnerships with a wide range of academic, commercial and governmental partners to innovate and commercialize 3D printing opportunities. In many cases, they also provide funding to various research groups that are part of additive manufacturing advancement programs. Just last summer, a further five awardees together received a total of $5.5 million in funds.

Earlier this year, the institute launched the Innovation Sprints program, which focuses on specific themes that contribute to their own developmental roadmap for 3D printing. Open to members and non-members, this new program awards a year-long silver-level membership in America Makes to its winners – worth $15,000.

For the inaugural program, to which entries could be submitted until 11 June, the theme was ‘smart structures’. “Specifically, America Makes is looking for organizations able to produce smart structures, i.e., parts with integrated devices, such as sensors, through AM technology,” they said at the time. These smart structures should be focused on data acquisition and/or manipulation. “Producing smart structures has been a long-standing promise of additive manufacturing that remains unfulfilled. We would like to understand and further the state of the art of this potentially disruptive technology.”

DREAMS Lab’s 3D printed smart wing perfectly fit the bill, and America Makes presented the winning design at the America Makes Program Review and Members Meeting in late September. The winning team consists of Joseph Kubalak, Logan Sturm, Rich Dumene, Callie Zawaski, Donald Aduba, Jr., Ph.D. and associate professor of mechanical engineering and DREAMS lab director Christopher Williams.

Specifically, their wing design features pre-made pockets that hold embedded sensors and actuators, with the 3D printing process being paused to place them. “Our goal is to use additive manufacturing to directly fabricate mechatronic devices – products that can both move, and have on-board sensing to detect and control that movement,” professor Williams explained. “To demonstrate our progress toward this goal, we 3D printed a multimaterial wing with a control surface – that is the flap of the wing – that is both adjusted and controlled by embedded actuators and sensors.” The wings are intended for remotely-piloted aircraft (RPA).

It’s the result of research that has been ongoing since 2011, and the process now eliminates post-print assembly entirely – completely bringing the manufacturing process to a single machine. At the same time, the parts are fully protected from all weather conditions, and the solid print don’t have any inherent weaknesses caused by assembly. “What makes this design unique is that it’s the first time we’ve combined all that prior work into a single product. We have embedded actuation, strain sensing, temperature sensing, and two different antennae built into the wing,” Williams argued. As a result these wings excellently fit in with the Department of Defense’s ambition for in-field fabrication.

While not ready yet for prime-time, this could be a part of the aircraft of tomorrow – if material and 3D printing innovations continue to be realized at this pace. “We are advancing 3D printing by combining different aspects of component inclusion to answer the need of new production technologies,” Williams explained, adding that this America Makes award is especially useful for the entire university. “All Virginia Tech faculty are now eligible to compete in America Makes project calls and join a national academic/industrial network to seed future collaborations and projects in the area of additive manufacturing.”

According to John Wilczynski, Deputy Director of Technology Development at America Makes, the DREAMS Lab entry was a clear winner because it brings the world one step closer to multi-material and multi-process integration. “This new capability will also help us realize true DFAM, that is Design For Additive Manufacturing, where we will be able to stop designing with conventional processes in mind and start fully realizing AM capabilities, which will have the potential to impact a wide variety of industries from the consumer space to automotive to healthcare and beyond.”



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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