Constructing complex objects from the bottom up, layer by layer, through a process known as additive manufacturing is set to revolutionize how we build everything from dental implants to houses to spacecraft components.
The technology provides flexibility in design that is unparalleled by any other manufacturing technology. Due to the bottom-up nature of additive manufacturing, it is possible to oversee and monitor each and every step of the process. This provides the opportunity to design complicated parts and be able to change and tweak the process as it’s happening.
Additive manufacturing includes a wide range of technologies and materials. In its simplest form, 3D printers use plastic filaments for fast prototyping. At its most sophisticated level, specialized modeling and manufacturing machinery can use various advanced polymers, composites and metal powders to build complex parts.
For example, powder bed technology, an additive manufacturing process in which fine metal powders are melted to create layers of parts, is very useful in building parts for aerospace applications. These parts often deal with high-temperature metals such as titanium and Inconel superalloys that are difficult to machine or form using traditional manufacturing techniques.
The Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University is home to several additive technology facilities established in collaboration with industry partners in the Phoenix metro area. More than a dozen cross-disciplinary faculty members are working on manufacturing research and related advanced materials and processes. Students also benefit by learning skills needed for this important industry and having hands-on access to additive manufacturing equipment and facilities.
Faculty members at ASU are instrumental in training the next generation of additive manufacturing professionals by developing new resources to prepare students for this dynamic field and engaging them in applying additive manufacturing knowledge.
Leila Ladani, a professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering in the School for Engineering of Matter, Transport and Energy and director of the Manufacturing Innovation Center, or MAGIC, recently published the first textbook on the additive manufacturing of metals that provides in-depth technical problems as well as fundamentals of processes and physics of the technology.
The book, "Additive Manufacturing of Metals: Materials, Processes, Tests, and Standards," builds on Ladani’s decade of experience researching and teaching in the field to prepare the next generation of additive manufacturing professionals.
Ladani focuses her research on advancing the process of additive manufacturing through simulation and experiments, using data and machine learning to optimize the process, post-process characterization and developing more efficient materials for this process.
Ladani discusses the state of this field and its potential to transform the way we design and manufacture metallic parts.
Question: When is additive manufacturing advantageous over other manufacturing processes?
Answer: Additive manufacturing is a disruptive technology — an innovation that alters the way the manufacturing industry operates — with several advantages over traditional manufacturing, including rapid design and build cycles, design flexibility, the ability to custom-build parts very quickly and efficiently, and to save energy, time and materials.
Q: What are the challenges that need to be overcome to successfully use additive manufacturing for metal parts?
A: Many of these parts are made for aerospace applications and they need to pass extensive procedures in qualification and certification in order to be used.
Researchers are working on optimizing the additive manufacturing process to make it possible to create defect-free parts that can withstand extreme environments and stressors, qualifying the parts after build in addition to developing other advances.
Q: What has surprised you about additive manufacturing during your career?
A: In many different fields when a new trend starts, it tends to continue to a certain peak and then the excitement and investment in that area slows down. What I have discovered about additive manufacturing is that it has been around since the 1980s and is still gaining momentum. I still see a lot of excitement about it.
I am personally drawn to additive manufacturing because of its potential to transform the way we manufacture metals and its huge research implications.
Q: What makes the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering an important force in additive manufacturing innovation?
A: Arizona State University and the Fulton Schools have invested significantly in additive manufacturing to become a leader in this field. We are surrounded by aerospace and other industries that provide an abundance of opportunities for additive manufacturing research.
The Fulton Schools has been forming collaborations with several key industry partners, creating facilities like the Innovation Hub, hiring faculty and developing expertise in this area. We also have a unique structure that provides opportunities for collaboration across disciplines, the ability for students and faculty to find each other and seamlessly collaborate, and the creation of degrees that span disciplines.
And it’s not just additive manufacturing. ASU has been impacting manufacturing as a whole and developing the workforce for manufacturing significantly in the region. Other schools offer certificates in manufacturing, but only four other universities offer a doctoral degree in manufacturing. The Fulton Schools offers not only a bachelor’s degree and master’s degree in manufacturing engineering, but we’re starting a doctoral degree in manufacturing engineering aimed to be available in fall 2021. Having all three degrees is unique and offers something students want to pursue.
Q: What should students know about additive manufacturing careers and the future of the industry?
A: Beyond manufacturing degrees, students can be successful in this field with backgrounds in mechanical engineering, industrial engineering and materials science and engineering. These are the four basic areas that are a good foundation for additive manufacturing careers, which include titles such as manufacturing engineer, materials engineer, design engineer and other positions in research and development, business development and much more.
It’s also important for students to know about the machinery used in the industry as well as the associated software to design parts and control the processes. For metal additive manufacturing, students should have a good understanding of the behaviors of the materials they want to work with.
Students should also learn about the costs and economy surrounding this technology, try to find new applications for it, and in general look at it with an open mind and entrepreneurial mindset to utilize its potential in a different and transformative way. These are all topics covered in my new textbook.
Q: What’s next for you in additive manufacturing?
A: I’m now trying to use additive manufacturing’s potential in creating new materials with different microstructures and composition. I also think that there is plenty of room to apply machine learning algorithms and artificial intelligence in additive manufacturing.
Q: How would you like to see additive manufacturing change the world in the next 10 years?
A: I admire research that references the eight design aspirations of a New American University. I think additive manufacturing can significantly impact the aspirations to “conduct use-inspired research,” “enable student success” and “be socially embedded.”
For example, if we can get metal additive manufacturing to the point where a layperson without an engineering background can use it, we can place it in applications such as the medical field to utilize its rapid prototyping and custom-build capabilities, such as designing and building implants in hospitals. This can be achieved with advancements in artificial intelligence and applying them to additive manufacturing user interfaces. Numerous different applications can be found if we observe our surroundings in a socially conscious manner and with open minds.
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