CIRAS’ Metal Additive Manufacturing Machine on Campus, Being Prepped for Early 2016 Debut

CIRAS' new machine
CIRAS’ new machine

The machine, known as a direct metal sintering system, was paid for using a combination of $900,000 obtained from CIRAS, the U.S. Department of Commerce’s NIST Manufacturing Extension Partnership, Iowa State University’s College of Engineering, and the Iowa Economic Development Authority. It arrived on the Iowa State campus in late September and is being housed in a newly remodeled room in Sukup Hall. Training is ongoing for campus faculty and staff and will be completed before the end of the year.

A public unveiling will be scheduled at a later date.

Chris Hill, who oversees CIRAS’ Technology Assistance Program, said he hopes to begin using the machine for projects with Iowa companies sometime early in 2016. CIRAS intends to use it mostly for educating industry, Hill said, but time also will be made for faculty members to perform research and to expose students to the technology.

The research may target company-specific problems or simply be orchestrated to determine the best industrial uses for additive technology. Such machines open a broad range of possibilities for new designs, Hill said— parts can now be much lighter or use unusual geometry, for example— but more research is needed to determine the best possible production techniques.

“We’re going to work hard to create knowledge and communicate that knowledge to industry,” Hill said. “The advantages and limitations of any technology are what you’d like to understand. You need to know both.”

Direct metal sintering machines use the combination of a laser and powdered metal to create metal parts or tools one tiny layer at a time according to a computerized design. Plastics-based machines, the most commonly discussed form of 3-D printing, have been used for years as an industry shortcut to producing prototype products. But metal-based technology currently is rare in Iowa.

CIRAS experts believe metal additive manufacturing technology has the potential to revolutionize how Iowa businesses make parts and tooling. (The new machine, one of the largest available, will be able to build anything that fits in a space 250mm by 250mm by 300mm, or slightly smaller than 10 inches by 10 inches by 12 inches.) In addition to learning new methods of design and new ways to manufacture, the technology will allow companies to cut costs and reduce the time needed to bring new products to market.

For more information about CIRAS’ assistance with additive manufacturing, contact Chris Hill at chhill@iastate.edu or 515-294-5416.

 

This article originally appeared in the Fall 2015 edition of CIRAS News. You can find the rest of this issue and more of CIRAS News on our website.