Penn State, Carnegie Mellon get slices of 3-D research funds

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The federal government is funding seven projects aimed at expanding the use of 3-D printing in manufacturing, including research to be done at Carnegie Mellon University and Penn State University.

The Youngstown, Ohio-based National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, launched last summer, will provide $4.5 million in federal funding for the projects approved last week. Companies and universities involved will provide an additional $5 million.

Hailed as the catalyst for the next industrial revolution, 3-D printing involves sending data from digital images to a printer that emits plastics, metals or other materials into a box. What emerges is a physical version of the digital image. The technology makes it easier to test designs of new products and eliminates grinding, punching, welding and other costly and time-consuming processes typically involved in making complex parts.

One of the approved projects involves Carnegie Mellon and Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. The universities will study how two different methods of 3-D printing technology can be used to make products that meet the exacting standards of the aerospace, medical device and other industries.

Kennametal, Bayer, GE Aviation, Pratt & Whitney and other companies, government laboratories and other universities are also involved, said John J. Lewandowski of Case Western's department of materials science and engineering.

A second Case Western-led project will examine how to help companies save money by using 3-D printing technologies to repair dies, a basic building block used to manufacture thousands of products from surgical instruments to engine blocks.

David Schwam, also in the Case Western materials science department, said such dies can cost $1 million or more to replace, a process that can take up to six months. Researchers will study how to repair cracked dies or recondition them to be used to manufacture different products.

"You're talking about really big savings by applying these methods," Mr. Schwam said. "The economic incentive here is very substantial."

A research team led by Penn State will seek new ways to use thermal imaging to monitor and control 3-D printing of metal parts.

A representative for the Youngstown center said the seven projects involve a total of eight universities and 25 companies, and should last from six to 22 months.

The center was created in August with $30 million in federal funding and $40 million pledged by companies and universities.

It is the first of 15 manufacturing research centers President Barack Obama wants to create in order to speed the commercialization of manufacturing technology. The centers would rely on funds provided by the federal government, private industry and universities.

In his State of the Union address last month, Mr. Obama said he would use executive authority to launch three more of the centers.

The Youngstown-based institute will ask for a second round of research proposals in June at a 3-D printing industry conference in Pittsburgh. The meeting is being organized by the Society of Manufacturing Engineers.

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Len Boselovic: lboselovic@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1941.


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