Students Design 3D Metal Printer for GE
Commercial 3D printers commonly use thin layers of a material, often a polymer, to construct computer-aided designs or scanned models. Using metal in 3D printing has also become possible using certain types of industrial printers. This process is also known as additive manufacturing. Parts and components made out of aluminum, steel, brass, copper, titanium and other metals can be printed using fine particles of metal powder.
The demand for metal 3D printed parts is increasing, but current printers are expensive and are generally limited to using one metal powder at a time. Syracuse University mechanical and aerospace engineering students 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 worked with the General Electric (GE) Global Research Center to design and prototype a system that can use multiple materials at the same time. The teams designed it as their senior design capstone project, an opportunity made possible by Joseph Vinciquerra (’00, G’02) at GE.
Their printer demonstrates one possible way for depositing different metal powders within a 3D printed part. The students say using multiple materials may one day reduce production time and allow for printed parts that weigh less than traditionally machined materials. Testing also showed the students’ concept could eventually be used to make components previously considered unbuildable.
“You can do different patterns within one layer,” says Zhushma. “It allows you to use materials of one property where you need it and materials with other properties elsewhere. Parts can have the same performance but be a lot lighter.”
Hofer and Zhushma say the emergence of additive technology could allow for mass production of metal parts like never before.
“We’ve never had the opportunity to optimize the geometry of parts without the necessity of extensive milling of materials,” says Hofer.
The students presented their research and a functioning prototype to GE. They hope current and future SU students will continue to look at ways to make 3D printing more efficient and affordable.
“There is a lot of research to be done on materials and metal alloys in particular,” says Hofer. “We’re happy that GE has given SU students the opportunity to contribute to this exciting technology field.”
Vinciquerra, principal engineer and technology platform leader for additive materials at GE Global Research comments, “Working with the students throughout the semester—watching them take an idea through detailed design and then ultimately producing a working prototype—was mutually exciting. These are real-world technology efforts in a fast-moving landscape, and it was great to be able to bring the senior MAE class along for the ride.”