The Role of Artificial Intelligence in Manufacturing 3D Printing Materials


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As additive manufacturing technology continues to grow and spread, countries all over the world are working hard to make sure they’re always on top, and even ahead of, the latest innovations. From the Be3D conference and setting aside funding for an additive manufacturing hub, to opening the country’s first integrated 3D printing hospital lab and a major government investment to open a multi-scale university AM lab, Canada is one of those countries that is going all in when it comes to 3D printing technology. This spring, the country opened its first research center for metal 3D printing for the marine and defense industries, and the University of New Brunswick (UNB) launched the center, which combines workforce development and training, research, and commercialization. Now, UNB is back in the headlines with its new, innovation-focused postdoctoral fellowship program.

The program is a result of a $1.25 million gift from the private McCain Foundation. The goal of the two- to three-year fellowships, valued at $50,000 per year, is to attract leading early-career researchers to the university, and to give PhD graduates the necessary resources to turn their research into market-ready products. The annual fellowships will be awarded competitively, and the chosen researchers will gain experience and expertise, while working with faculty mentors and partnering with industry leaders.

The inaugural fellowship recipient is Dr. Edward Cyr, a mechanical engineer originally with the University of Waterloo who is studying the role of artificial intelligence in manufacturing 3D printing materials, like aluminum alloys and advanced stainless steels.

Dr. Cyr said, “Through the creation of these awards, The McCain Foundation has shown the value that it places on supporting future leaders. I believe that investing in education is the way to bring society into the best possible future, and I look forward to being a part of UNB’s and New Brunswick’s continued leadership in innovation.”

Mechanical engineer Ed Cyr [Image: Rob Blanchard, The Canadian Press]

Dr. Cyr is currently working to understand how 3D printed materials behave; his goal is to use their unique characteristics to improve upon traditional manufacturing techniques.

“We’re not really sure how these materials behave, and how to best use these new methods. If we can understand why (these behaviours) are happening … then we can design the part to use the best part of that behaviour,” Dr. Cyr told The Canadian Press.

He plans to develop 3D printing methods that are able to introduce new behaviors, which can’t be done with more conventional manufacturing materials. At the moment, Dr. Cyr is studying a 3D printed aluminum alloy that increases in strength when it’s put under specific types of stress – similar to a typical sheet metal, only far stronger.

Dr. Cyr explained, “That would be useful for something like armour, perhaps, or maybe even building the wall of a ship. For impacts happening at higher speed, like an icebreaker, it would become stronger instead of more brittle.”

[Image: Rob Blanchard/UNB]

Eventually, Dr. Cyr will go even further with his boundary-pushing manufacturing research, and begin studying a concept that sounds like it’s right out of a science fiction movie: thought-controlled 3D printing. But it’s not so far-fetched: Dr. Cyr said European researchers have already developed 3D printing technology that allowed a bridge to design and build itself. The machine scanned the desired bridge distance, simulated the structure, and printed out the bridge.

“It looked at the problem, designed its own solution, and then built it,” Dr. Cyr said.

“For a human to sit down and come up with the optimal design, we would have to come up with thousands, and thousands, and that would be incredibly time consuming. The beauty of a computer is it has the ability to go through those thousands and thousands of designs. It can actually model a total design space and tell us which one is the best, and it can even come up with things we might not even think of.”

Generative design and machine learning are often in focus as technology can be used to optimize design and, indeed, for designs to design themselves.

Dr. Mohsen Mohammadi and a master’s student examine a 3D printed metal component. [Image: Rob Blanchard/UNB]

According to his supervisor at UNB’s Marine Additive Manufacturing Centre of Excellence, Dr. Mohsen Mohammadi, Dr. Cyr is hoping to move his experimental research into the manufacturing plant quickly. The plan is to combine 3D printing technologies with conventional machinery in order to test his research, and develop “factories of the future” in New Brunswick.

“We start up from the nano-scale, move up to micro-scale, meso, macro and then we think that we can change things in macro. I think for sure we will see the factory of the future soon … and it’s going to revolutionize the whole manufacturing medium,” explained Dr. Mohammadi.

“All these new technologies, they sound actually far away, but they are coming to us. If we don’t practice them here in New Brunswick, in Atlantic Canada, in the Maritimes, we will be behind.”

Dr. Mohammadi believes that industry-enhanced artificial intelligence and the “age of augmentation” could help create jobs in the province.

“Our workforce will have a new tool in their tool box. We are not only actually going to affect the number of workforce, we think these will actually train the workforce for the new generation of technologies,” said Dr. Mohammadi.

Dr. Edward Cyr with Linda McCain [Image: Cameron Fitch / Photo UNB]

That’s why programs like the McCain Postdoctoral Fellowships in Innovation are so important – they can help researchers expand their knowledge, drive important discoveries, and advance the local, and even global, economy. The chair of the McCain Foundation, Linda McCain, believes that the fellowships will offer early-career researchers, like Dr. Cyr, unique training opportunities.

McCain said, “We believe that these fellowships will enhance the recipients’ specialized expertise and also give them valuable skills that will translate their ideas into more opportunities for themselves and others in New Brunswick.”

Discuss in the University of New Brunswick forum at

[Sources: The Star, UNB]


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