3D printed shaft with sensing element and wiring [Image: Antti Vaajoki, VTT]

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland has been researching advanced 3D printing applications for some time, resulting in innovations like 3D printed electronic nanocellulose bandages and other high-tech developments. The institution is also working on future manufacturing concepts, which involve a lot of smart technology, and recently VTT created a 3D printed smart shaft. The overall process management chain in creating the shaft was particularly high-tech, utilizing not only 3D printing but sensor technology, wireless data transfer, and condition monitoring in the same package.

Within the additive manufacturing industry, some of the stiffest competition comes within the race to develop 3D printed smart solutions. They have been seen in a variety of applications, from 3D printed smart implants to smart windows and more, but VTT’s particular focus is on developing smart solutions within manufacturing. While there is widespread investment in research and development for these kinds of applications, few have succeeded in developing a working solution in which sensors form a functional part of a 3D printed metal structure.

VTT has succeeded, however. The institution’s proof of concept demo showed that a range of sensors or smart identifications can be added to 3D printed metal parts during manufacture for the purpose of tracking the performance or condition of machines or devices or verifying the authenticity of the parts.

Rotating shaft in test bench, wireless data transfer electronics in the foreground [Image: Jari Halme, VTT]

“We performed a successful smart component demo, in which we explored potential technologies,” said Research Team Leader Pasi Puukko. “During the manufacturing phase, we embedded an accelerometer and the necessary wiring into a 3D printed metal shaft for a friction bearing. In addition, electronics allowing wireless communication were installed on the bearing. We were able to demonstrate the reliability of the shaft’s measurement technology and data transfer on a bearing test bench. The rapid collection and use of accurate data markedly increase when data is directly transferred from the component to the cloud wirelessly. This will enable us to take the next big step towards artificial intelligence.”

That’s an exciting statement – artificial intelligence has the potential to radically transform manufacturing, making it faster and more effective as sensors spot errors and defects that the human eye cannot catch, saving manufacturers up to billions of dollars. Smart devices like the one created by VTT allow designers much more freedom than do traditional manufacturing methods. A device with a wear-measuring sensor, for instance, can provide up to date information and allow needed maintenance to begin automatically without breaks in production.

VTT’s development has a variety of potential applications, including industrial machine manufacture as well as applications in the energy, mining and transportation industries. Embedded sensors in particular are well-suited to harsh or demanding conditions, as the sensors and wiring are protected inside the component. In addition, functioning is unimpeded by extraneous wiring on the surfaces of structures.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland welcomes collaboration from companies in the development of smart 3D printed components. The institution can be reached here.

Discuss this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below. 

[Source: VTT Technical Research Centre]

 

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