September 24, 2013
Aided by funding from NASA and using methods similar to 3-D printing, researchers at Missouri University of Science and Technology, Rolla, Mo., are running computer simulations of processes that could lead to stronger, more durable materials for the space agency.
The researchers also plan to fabricate some of these new materials soon, said Dr. Frank Liou, director of the university's laser aided manufacturing process (LAMP) laboratory and the Michael and Joyce Bytnar Professor of Product Innovation and Creativity.
For the past 15 years, Liou and his colleagues have been developing a fabrication method known as additive manufacturing. The process involves the use of high-powered lasers to melt small particles of powdered materials as they exit a nozzle to create 3-D shapes, layer by layer. The technique is similar to 3-D printing, which has grown in popularity in recent years.
According to Liou, the additive approach applies to a variety of manufacturing applications, from the fabrication of large aircraft components to minuscule biomaterials used in surgical procedures. Additive manufacturing approaches result in a denser, stronger material than conventional methods, such as milling, machining, or forging. Liou, who also directs Missouri S&T’s manufacturing engineering program, says steel parts made using the additive method are 10 percent stronger than steel that is machined.
In his latest research, Liou is combining additive manufacturing with more conventional approaches to creating materials. He calls the approach "hybrid manufacturing." With hybrid manufacturing, S&T researchers could apply an additive manufacturing technique to create aircraft components from two different metals — perhaps steel and copper — and then smooth the parts' rough edges using automated CNC machining.