Apr 17, 2018 | By David

We’ve reported before on the work of Finnish technology research centre VTT, which has used 3D printing for a range of applications such as bandages and food, as well as implementing plasma technology to improve metal AM. The latest breakthrough by the Espoo-based team is a proof-of-concept for a 3D printed ''smart'' metal part. The component is a shaft for a bearing, and it has a number of sensors embedded within it, which enable it to track its own performance.

(source: VTT)

VTT is one of the leading tech research centers in Europe, and its multi-disciplinary team is frequently involved with the development and implementation of cutting-edge developments, pointing the way forward to the future of various industries. This latest 3D printed smart component suggests a direction that metal AM and industrial manufacturing in general could soon be heading in.

Many companies and organizations have been attempting to develop parts that can provide their manufacturers and users with feedback on their physical condition, in terms of wear and tear and other important things. They are also developing similar sensor systems that can be used to identify and authenticate a particular component and its origins. A majority of these projects are still working at the R&D phase, but VTT has succeeded in producing a working proof-of-concept metal piece for the first time.

(example of a sensor, source: Wired)

According to Research Team Leader Pasi Puukko, "We performed a successful smart component demo, in which we explored potential technologies. During the manufacturing phase, we embedded an accelerometer and the necessary wiring into a 3D printed metal shaft for a friction bearing. In addition, electronics allowing wireless communication were installed on the bearing. We were able to demonstrate the reliability of the shaft's measurement technology and data transfer on a bearing test bench. The rapid collection and use of accurate data markedly increase when data is directly transferred from the component to the cloud wirelessly. This will enable us to take the next big step towards artificial intelligence."

The use of sensing technology adds an extra level of design freedom to the manufacturing process, on top of that which is offered by 3D printing technology. The ability to get real-time feedback on a component’s performance means that any maintenance operations will be much more efficient, and could even be automated, such that no breaks in production would be necessary. This would cut down drastically on initial testing time, and reduce the risk of experimenting with new structures and materials.

(source: VTT)

The development of embedded sensors opens up a range of new possibilities for implementing smart components in the most demanding conditions, as all the sensors and wiring are protected inside the component and normal functioning would be unimpeded by any extraneous wiring on the surfaces of structures. The VTT team sees a broad variety of different applications for its 3D printed smart components, once the project moves from this proof-of-concept to prototyping or commercial production. They could be used in the manufacturing of industrial machines as well as equipment used in the energy, mining and transport industries, amongst others.



Posted in 3D Printing Application



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