A research institute in Ohio has received $3 million to improve the composition of polymers to create better products made from three-dimensional printing.
Traditional paper printers use a moving toner cartridge head to form lines of text, adding row upon row of toner, and the paper moves through the printer. Three-dimensional printing (3-D) works similarly, but a free-moving head precisely deposits layer upon layer of plastic to create a solid object from the bottom up.
The Ohio Third Frontier — an economic development initiative — has awarded the University of Dayton Research Institute (UDRI) the funding to provide specialized materials for use in additive manufacturing, which is the science of using computer printers to create 3-D, functional objects, reports R&D Magazine. With partners, the institute will use the funding to develop aircraft-engine components for GE Aviation.
The technology allows engineers to design a new aircraft engine on a computer, and then create the actual part, not just a model. 3-D printing has existed for about 20 years, but additive manufacturing in its current form is only about five years old, says Brian Rice, head of the institute’s Multi-Scale Composites and Polymers Division.
Additive manufacturing has advantages over traditional manufacturing, such as injection molding or machining. Rice says:
Cost savings is a major benefit because there are no molds or tooling needed to fabricate parts. With traditional manufacturing, every time you want to make even a slight change to the design of what you are making, you have to retool or make an entirely new mold, and that gets very expensive. With additive manufacturing, you can change your design as often as you want simply by changing the design on your computer file. You can’t make complex parts with injection molding. And because you can print an entire part in one piece with additive manufacturing, instead of welding or attaching separate components together as in traditional manufacturing, the finished part is stronger.
Additive manufacturing also reduces the amount of waste, says Jeff DeGrange, vice president of Stratasys, which owns an industrial line of additive manufacturing machines that will be used to print components for end users. “With additive manufacturing, you only use as much material as you need for the part you’re printing. But with machining, you’re shaping objects by removing material from a larger block until you have the desired form, so there is a good bit of wasted material.”
3-D printers can use polymers, metals, or ceramic feedstock to make objects, but UDRI’s focus will be on polymers. “UDRI has developed a highly specialized nanomaterial that will reinforce the polymer feedstock, giving the finished product greater strength and stiffness than non-reinforced polymer,” Rice says. “It will also make the polymer electrically conductive.”
Dale McGeehon has been a journalist and editor for more than 25 years, covering chemical regulation and testing for Pesticides and Toxic Chemical News and innovations in material sciences for the National Technology Transfer Center. His writing credits include Omni and College Park magazines and The New York Times.