Manufacturing in 3-D

Using a process similar to 3-D printing, Frank Liou and his fellow researchers in S&T’s Laser Aided Manufacturing Process (LAMP) Laboratory are developing computer models of various additive manufacturing approaches that he believes will help researchers understand how layered materials bond to the surface on which they’re deposited.

Liou, the Michael and Joyce Bytnar Professor of Product Innovation and Creativity in mechanical and aerospace engineering, recently received $750,000 in funding from NASA to show how additive manufacturing could help the space agency build stronger, more durable materials for aircraft components.

Liou has been working on additive manufacturing for the past 15 years. He uses high-powered lasers to melt small particles of powdered materials as they exit a nozzle to create three-dimensional shapes, layer by layer. The process creates a denser, stronger material than conventional milling, machining or forging could produce.

Additive manufacturing has a broad range of applications — from large aircraft components to miniscule biomaterials used in surgical procedures. In his latest research, Liou is examining ways to use the technique to create aircraft components from two different materials.

“In many aerospace or biomedical applications, you cannot afford metal fatigue,” or cracking of the material, Liou says. “It is important to understand how well a deposited metal bonds to the surface” to avoid metal fatigue.

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