Virginia Tech DREAMS Lab Wins America Makes Innovation Sprint Smart Structures Challenge

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3dp_amped_americamakes_logo-300x157 (1)With the goal of working alongside startups and educational institutions to further the capabilities of 3D printing technology since 2012, America Makes, also known as the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute, has become the bastion for additive manufacturing innovation in the United States. They’ve hosted a number of project calls focused on a wide range applications, from Air Force aircraft part replacement to open source 3D printing software. The 3D printing and additive manufacturing accelerator has helped constructed a community that enables the brightest startups and higher education to collaborate and drive this emerging technology forward.

Their latest Innovation Sprint Smart Structures challenge, the first in a series of America Makes Innovation Sprint competitions, called on organizations to utilize 3D printing to produce smart structures. The winner of the challenge was a team of students from Virginia Tech’s Design, Research, and Education for Additive Manufacturing Systems (DREAMS) Lab, who developed a 3D printed wing section that demonstrates the possibility of fabricating parts with integrated sensing and actuation. The DREAMS Lab team consisted of undergraduate and graduate students from the College of Engineering’s Department of Mechanical Engineering, along with one electrical and computer engineer as well.

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The DREAMS lab team with Ed Morris, the director of America Makes and vice president of the National Center for Defense Manufacturing and Machining. [Photo: Virginia Tech]

Their winning submission, which was entitled the “Smart Wing Project,” showcased the possibility of integrating mechatronic devices into a 3D printed wing in a single process, which would be extremely helpful for the production of a remotely-piloted aircraft (RPA). Essentially, the DREAMS Lab students would simply pause the 3D printer and place the components into the wing’s pockets before resuming the process. The Virginia Tech team was able to implement a number of smart structures into the 3D printed wing, including embedded actuation, strain sensing, temperature sensing, and two different antennas. The project has positive implications for the US Department of Defense’s plan to deploy additive manufacturing systems that would enable in-field production of replacement, spare, and innovative products.

“Our goal is to use additive manufacturing to directly fabricate mechatronic devices – products that can both move, and have on-board sensing to detect and control that movement,” said Chris Williams, associate professor of mechanical engineering and DREAMS Lab director. “To demonstrate our progress toward this goal, we 3-D printed a multimaterial wing with a control surface – that is the flap of the wing – that is both adjusted and controlled by embedded actuators and sensors.”

dreamslogoThis 3D printed smart structure effectively eliminates the need for post-process assembly, simplifies the manufacturing process, and also protects the embedded sensors and circuits from environmental effects. In addition, since the wing is produced as a single part, the smart structure is inherently stronger than assembled products. The university has been researching the potential of embedding objects into multimaterial 3D printed products since 2011, but this was the first time they were able to utilize all of their work in one object. The team included mechanical engineering postdoc Donald Aduba; doctoral students Logan Sturm and Joseph Kubalak; and electrical and computer engineering senior Richard Dumene.

As a reward for their innovative work with 3D printed smart structures, America Makes has awarded Virginia Tech with silver-level membership to the institute for a year, which has a value worth $15,000. This means that the university’s faculty will now be eligible to compete in various America Makes project calls, and also utilize their extensive network to develop future collaborations and 3D printing projects. All in all, the DREAMS Lab’s submission for the Innovation Sprint Smart Structures challenge will help carry our current manufacturing technologies to the level needed for the intelligent products of the future. Discuss further in the Dreams Lab Wins 3D Printing Contest forum over at 3DPB.com.

[Source: Virginia Tech]

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