Naseem Jibrin, Benjamin and Brandon Ennis, and Michael Winn are trying to work out how to create explosives using a commercially available HP 3D printer. But don’t call the FBI, because they are doing this at the behest of the Navy as the representatives of the consulting firm E&G Associates. These four recent graduates from engineering programs at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga (UTC) have received a $150,000 grant from the Small Business Innovation Research Program to take on this project, which is a shift away from their traditional work with clients in the bulk solids processing industries.A typical case presented to the firm by a client in the bulk solids processing industry would be to design systems that would allow that client to move an enormous quantity of coffee beans, for example, from their storage space in 1,500 square foot silos into individual cans that are small enough to go on the shelves of supermarkets. Using their engineering backgrounds and creative thinking capacity, the team would work to figure out how this could be done efficiently and effectively, given that we live in a world without magicians. While the employees are relatively green, having only just recently graduated, Brandon Ennis found that their native smarts combined with a good education and a dash of self-confidence has gone a long way toward helping them be successful with the startup:
“I thought the engineering program at UTC was fantastic,” he said. “I learned a lot. It’s a smaller program, but I don’t feel that I left there lacking. If you believe that you are taught well and apply yourself, you may not get it right, but you just have to say, ‘I just spent four years learning this. Let me go out and actually apply what I’ve been taught.’ And if you have the confidence to do that, I think it’s a pretty easy transition for students to make.”
The company’s founder, Dr. Bryan Ennis, UTC Associate Professor of Civil and Chemical Engineering, has been instrumental in helping the firm, which employs his two sons, make connections with big name clients and, recently, with the US Navy which was looking for a firm to help it explore the possibilities present in 3D printing for use with explosives. The team is working with a powder bed fusion technique and a variety of materials, such as nylon powder infused with explosive material, to develop 3D printable explosives in a variety of shapes and sizes. Jibrin described the process:
“The printer spreads the nylon powder and then prints on that flat layer of powder with the ink. Then the printer passes a heat lamp back and forth to make the dark areas melt. And that’s how you get your parts. The process is repeated in three steps. Spread a layer, ink the specific selected areas, and fuse with heat lamps. You do that over and over again until you build a part.”
The Navy hopes that being able to use a 3D printer that is already on the market will help to cut down on the expense and time required to develop a new machine in their quest to utilize the technology for producing explosives. As Benjamin Ennis explained:
In this manner, they would be able to create specialized, on-demand explosives without all the delay of development and production via traditional methods. All of the products that the group creates must be tested in order to understand how they have worked and what improvements need to be made, but as the offices of E&G Associates are in a densely populated area, they can’t just go out into the back alley and blow things up. Instead, they take their products to Missouri University of Science and Technology (MST) for testing in their facilities which contain blast chambers, appropriate testing equipment, and high speed cameras in order to capture all of the relevant data about their creations’ destructive powers.
“It’s a lot of development effort to try to come up with a machine or printer. They want to be able to take the technologies that are already available. Instead [of] inserting a spool of nylon into the printer, like with traditional 3D printing, they want to insert [a] spool of explosive material.”
While the team is performing serious work, they seem to be enjoying themselves quite a bit and I can’t help but imagine the project is slightly more interesting than shifting coffee beans.
What do you think of this news? Let us know your thoughts; join the discussion of this and other 3D printing topics at 3DPrintBoard.com or share your thoughts below.[Source: UTC]