Penn State has been responsible for several intriguing innovations in 3D printing, running the gamut from fashion to bioprinting. Now the university is taking a step forward in metal 3D printing with the installation of what it’s calling a “super finishing lab” for metal 3D printed parts. Penn State received over $535,000 for the lab, which will complement the existing subtractive processing technology in the Factory for Advanced Manufacturing Education (FAME) Lab within the Harold and Inge Marcus Department of Industrial and Manufacturing Engineering.
The finishing equipment will transform 3D printed parts into components ready for product assembly. The one-year project, called “Super Finishing of Printed Metallic Parts for High Performance Naval Systems,” is being funded by the Defense University Research Instrumentation Program, which operates through the Department of Defense’s Office of Naval Research.
“The Navy has a strong interest in identifying and researching the technical issues of using 3D-printed metal parts for naval applications now and in the future,” said Ed De Meter, principal investigator on the project and professor in the engineering department. “They want to better understand how to design parts while identifying potential barriers and also benefits that may arise between the metal printing process and any secondary processing that is done to smooth out the surface texture of these parts.”
When a metal part is 3D printed, the work isn’t done after it’s been removed from the build platform. Although parts can be 3D printed to near net shape, they must still be machined to remove supports, and thermal processing is required to improve their material properties.
“Super-finishing processes are used to remove burrs and to smooth surfaces,” said De Meter. “All three post processes are needed to produce parts for demanding national defense applications, which include jet engines and sea vessels.”
Functional parts must have very tight geometric control and a highly smooth surface finish. If a part has rough surfaces and is subject to a great deal of force or vibration, it can crack and fail.
“In parts like those the Navy uses, there are a number of internal passageways involved,” De Meter explained. “If the part is printed and the finish of the passageway is rough, it’s going to interfere with the flow; or if there are loose particles from the printing process in any crevice of the part, and they break free during the application, it can cause not only the part to fail but the entire system to fail.”
There are three main areas of focus for the project, said De Meter. First, the team wants to establish expertise on how additively manufactured parts react when super finished and installed in complex assemblies. That knowledge could then be shared with the community, as that information is not currently out there, according to De Meter. Second, the team wants to study the finishing of metal parts with tight lattice structures to find out if the processes can polish some of the intricate passageways of the parts.
“If we find out there are deficiencies in finishing these parts, which we suspect there will be, that’s where we will want to work on process development,” said De Meter.
Finally, there’s an educational component to the research. The team hopes to create graduate-level courses that could be offered online to employees of the companies that use the finishing processes on metal 3D printed parts.
“It’s more convenient and economical for these employees to take some courses online than it would be for a company to pick up the cost of sending them off-site to learn about these technologies,” said De Meter.
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