Apr 18, 2018 | By David

An engineering researcher based at Nebraska-Lincoln University has recently set to work on a new technique that should improve the reliability of 3D printing technology. Prahalada Rao has received a major five-year grant from the National Science Foundation that will enable him to work on a new process that he is calling ''Smart Additive Manufacturing''. Using a combination of programming and sensors as well as additive and subtractive processes, it could lead the production of flawless metal parts from every print.

Rao is an assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering at Nebraska-Lincoln University. The grant he was awarded was part of the Faculty Early Career Development Program, and it is worth $500,000 over five years. It is intended to support pre-tenure faculty who exemplify the role of teacher-scholars through outstanding research, excellent education and the successful integration of this education and research.

The technique he will be working on is addressed to the issue of flaws in metal AM manufacturing. We recently reported on another project that is also intending to improve the quality of 3D printed metal parts. Rao will be developing algorithms, and making use of special sensors that can give real-time feedback on the quality of a printed part, in order to automatically detect different types of flaws that might occur and automatically correct them.

"It's a 'big data' problem," Rao said. "You've got so many sensors. The trick is how do you use all of that data you're collecting to pinpoint when and where an error occurs and then correct as you build."

The sensors he is using will be attached to a special hybrid 3D printer that works with both additive and subtractive processes. Nebraska has just invested in three of these hybrid machines, to be installed in the Nebraska Engineering Additive Technology Labs, or NEAT Labs, which are scheduled to open in May.

Rao was previously the recipient of a $1 million National Science Foundation Cyber Physical Systems (CPS) grant, to work on a new 3D bio-printing process in collaboration with researchers from Virginia Tech. This is aimed at the development of complex biological tissues for organ transplants, artificial meat, and other purposes.

The connecting thread between all of Rao’s various projects is a fascination with data, and analyzing physical processes in detail to improve them. ''One of my passions is looking at data'', he said. ''Whether it comes from the brain, the heart or a machine, the physical process is always trying to tell you something. Understanding how I can look deeper into a system by listening to the sensor signals and discerning what they are trying to say. That’s what moves me.''

(all images: UNL)

Passing on his knowledge through education is also an important part of Rao’s work. He is currently developing an undergraduate program that is focused on additive manufacturing, and will allow students to get as much as hands-on laboratory experience as possible. Another project is an eight-week summer camp for Native American students to learn 3D printing skills. He is working on this in collaboration with the Navajo Technical University in Crownpoint, New Mexico.



Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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