Jul 31, 2017 | By Benedict

Mechanical and aerospace engineering students at Syracuse University have developed a DMLM powder deposition system for multi-material 3D printing. GE’s Joseph Vinciquerra, who worked with the students on the project, explained to 3Ders what the metal 3D printing system is all about.

Syracuse University students have designed an innovative DMLM 3D printer component

Over the last few years, GE has made no secret of its desire to enter the 3D printing industry. Its development of 3D printed aerospace components and acquisition of high-profile additive manufacturing companies like Concept Laser and Arcam testifies to that, and it seems like the American corporation is perpetually on the brink of another major 3D printing announcement.

Given GE’s willingness to acquire established 3D printing names like Concept Laser, you probably wouldn’t expect high-ups from the American company to be working with students on new 3D printing ideas. But that’s exactly what Joseph Vinciquerra, principal engineer and technology platform leader for additive materials at GE Global Research, has been doing.

An alumnus of New York State’s Syracuse University, Vinciquerra recently returned to his former stomping ground to help a group of final-year mechanical and aerospace engineering students with their senior design capstone project.

Mechanical and aerospace engineering students Advin Zhushma (left) and Colin Hofer present their work

Under the GE expert’s guidance, the students set about designing a new 3D printer component that could have exciting implications for metal additive manufacturing.

“For this project, we asked the students to design a sub-component of a 3D printer,” Vinciquerra told 3Ders. “Specifically, we asked them to look at the powder deposition system of a typical Direct Metal Laser Melting (DMLM) machine.”

Less common than other metal 3D printing methods like Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS) and Selective Laser Melting (SLM), DMLM is similar to DMLS, but is capable of fully melting metal powder instead of sintering it. The 3D printing technique can be used to produce metal components with highly desirable mechanical properties, often similar to those of wrought metal parts.

DMLM has emerged as GE’s additive method of choice in recent years, being used in the company’s aerospace 3D printing endeavors and elsewhere.

GE's Joseph Vinciquerra wanted the students to understand the demands of professional engineering

While lasers are—unsurprisingly—one of the most important components of a DMLM 3D printer, Vinciquerra encouraged the Syracuse students to focus on developing a powder deposition system for such a printer. His motive? To see if the young engineers could create a system capable of multi-material 3D printing.

“Typically, when we talk about additive manufacturing in powder bed systems, we’re focused on printing parts from one powder material,” Vinciquerra explained. “That material will obviously change part to part, but the current standard is that printers utilize one material at a time.”

Amazingly, the young Syracuse engineers achieved this ambitious goal, successfully putting together a system that allows a metal 3D printer to print with multiple materials within a single print. Of course, a small handful of metal 3D printer manufacturers already offer this ability, but the Syracuse students say their system can also deposit multiple kinds of metal powder within a single layer.

“It allows you to use materials of one property where you need it and materials with other properties elsewhere,” said Advin Zhushma, one of the students involved in the project. “Parts can have the same performance but be a lot lighter.”

What this means is that, if the prototype of the powder deposition system can be turned into a commercial product, researchers and businesses would have the power to create a whole new generation of metal 3D printed components. These components could contain multiple materials, but be made without any joins and weak spots. 

The DMLM powder deposition system allows for multi-material metal 3D printing

GE’s Vinciquerra sees researchers getting first dibs on the technology, but believes that such a powder deposition system could eventually be used by businesses right across the industrial spectrum. That, however, was not why the engineer got on board with the challenge.

Although this was clearly an exciting technical project for Vinciquerra, the GE Global Research engineer said his main reason for getting involved was to help the fledgling engineers learn about professional life.

“I’ve seen many students struggle with the transition from being an engineering student to being an engineer in a professional workplace,” Vinciquerra said. “The pace is different, the teaming is more complicated, and the projects are often times more fluid and nebulous than what they are exposed to at the undergraduate level.

“My interest in supporting the Senior Design class stemmed from this perspective, and my intention on behalf of GE is to help better prepare the students for their transition into the workplace so that they can make immediate impact as a professional.”

At present, there’s no word on what will become of the students’ impressive-sounding powder deposition system, though we can imagine that many metal 3D printing specialists would be extremely interested in technology of this sort. (In other words, don’t be surprised if Concept Laser and Arcam come out with a multi-material metal 3D printers in the coming years!)

Multi-material 3D printing could someday improve GE's 3D printed parts, including this jet engine fuel nozzle

“There is a lot of research to be done on materials and metal alloys in particular,” said Colin Hofer, another Syracuse senior involved with the project. “We’re happy that GE has given SU students the opportunity to contribute to this exciting technology field.”

Back in April, GE invested around $109 million into a newly acquired 3D printing production site in Lichtenfels, Germany, but the company’s additive efforts can be found all over the globe.

Last month, the corporation claimed to have secured $31 billion of new business after showcasing 3D printed aerospace components and related technologies at the Paris Air Show. Its latest 3D printed aviation efforts can be seen in a 3D printed turboprop engine complete with 13 3D printed parts. The engine will power Textron Aviation’s forthcoming 10-person Cessna Denali aircraft.

The complete roster of Syracuse University mechanical and aerospace engineering students who worked on the 3D printing project is as follows: Advin Zhushma ’17, Colin Hofer ’17, Jeffrey Clark ’17, Alejandro Valencia ’17, Geoffrey Vaartstra ’17, Ruiquing Yin ’17, Bryan Morris ’17, Carter Kupchella ’17, and Joshua Beckerman ’17.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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