Profs. Raeymaekers and Spear receive $3.0M Department of Defense award for metal additive manufacturing project

May 11, 2017

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Professors Bart Raeymaekers and Ashley Spear have received a $3M award from the DoD to create a new manufacturing platform that will help advance economic and workforce resilience in response to changes in Defense spending. Specifically, this project focuses on networking past, present, and potential Defense-supported manufacturers with research and development centers via a centralized, artificially intelligent database. This platform will enable the manufacturers to efficiently use additive manufacturing (AM) processes (a.k.a. “3D printing”) to shorten product development cycles, expand their product mix, and enter new non-Defense related markets, thus increasing their resilience to changes in Defense spending.

Unlike plastics 3D printing, which can be done by hobbyists in their homes, AM of metals requires a high-level of skill, expertise, and specialized know-how to adjust and tune the manufacturing process for a specific part geometry, material, or desired functional outcome. As such, building a new part or changing to a new material with AM processing is currently time consuming, tedious, and expensive. Correspondingly, the economic uncertainty of launching innovative products or entering new, untested markets often renders AM cost-prohibitive. As AM has gained popularity in the last decade, this has been the most critical obstacle inhibiting its mass adoption as a production technique rather than as a rapid prototyping method. Thus, the objective of this program is to address this critical problem by building a cloud database with information and tools to enable manufacturers to efficiently employ AM processes as a way to increase economic resilience.

In addition to a substantial outreach effort to study and engage manufacturers throughout Utah and Colorado, a research program will be developed to help populate the cloud database. The research will involve systematically characterizing properties of AM parts produced under a variety of AM build conditions. The data will be added to the cloud, and artificial intelligence will be employed to help establish links among process parameters and part performance. Ultimately, the cloud database will enable Defense-related businesses to innovate new products, promote economic diversification, accelerate product development cycles, and reduce dependency on the Defense industry while becoming increasingly agile in their ability to respond to emergent DoD demands. In the first phase of this program, the team will “beta-test” this proposed plan within Utah and Colorado, and validate the proof-of-concept with local Defense contractors.

This project is a collaboration between the University of Utah and the Colorado School of Mines, as well as the Utah and Colorado Manufacturing Extension Partnership Centers.