NIST Awards $4M to Four Institutions for Metal 3D Printing Research

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The U.S. Department of Commerce’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), a non-regulatory agency that promotes innovation and industrial competitiveness across the country, has awarded close to $4 million in grants to four institutions in order to help increase the adoption and implementation of updated measurement methods and standards for metal additive manufacturing. This funding, from NIST’s Metals-Based Additive Manufacturing Grants Program, will be distributed over the course of two years.

“NIST and the entire Department of Commerce are committed to providing American organizations the necessary resources to thrive and build upon their discoveries and innovations. I congratulate these grant awardees, whose contributions to metals-based additive manufacturing will certainly help America play a bigger role in the industry,” said U.S. Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross.

Knowing that metal 3D printing has many benefits, ranging from lower energy intensity and faster production to less material waste and time to market, NIST has been completing metal AM research of its own over the last few years. With the help of these grants, and the institutions that received them, the agency will be able to focus even more on AM adoption barriers, such as computational requirements, dimensional accuracy, print speed, surface finish and quality issues, and material properties.

The goal of this current research by the grant awardees and NIST is to address all of the issues listed above, and any others deemed necessary, in order increase adoption of metal 3D printing by creating standards for methods including laser powder bed fusion (LPBF) and cold spray.

“By addressing important measurement challenges, these projects will improve U.S. manufacturers’ ability to use metals-based additive manufacturing to make high-quality, innovative and complex products at high volume. We look forward to working with these organizations to further leverage NIST experience and expertise in this key area of advanced manufacturing,” stated Under Secretary of Commerce for Standards and Technology and NIST Director Walter G. Copan.

Cold spray AM technology. (Image courtesy of Digital Alloys)

Northeastern University in Boston will receive $999,464 in funding to work on a project focused on cold spray additive manufacturing, which can be used to fabricate stronger, more durable parts than other AM technologies are capable of creating. The grant money will go towards improving sensing technology, and developing a set of sensors to optimize and better control the technology by characterizing powder feedstock properties and important parameters, like part dimensions and print temperature.

Indiana-based Purdue University has been granted $999,929 to work on 3D printed parts qualification. The goal here will be to create a standardized, more streamlined approach for predicting the performance properties of 3D printed parts through the use of mathematical models and material microstructure measurements, so that not as much testing will be needed.

With funding from the NIST Metals-Based Additive Manufacturing Grants Program, Georgia Tech Research Corp., the University of Texas at El Paso, Purdue University, and Northeastern University will help advance metals-based additive manufacturing by leveraging NIST’s expertise in the area. NIST mechanical engineer Brandon Lane studies this layer-by-layer printing process in depth to help manufacturers improve their “recipes” for quality parts and assemblies at NIST’s Additive Manufacturing Metrology Testbed. (Image courtesy of Earl Zubkoff)

The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) will receive $1 million in funding from NIST to, as explained in a NIST press release, “define a test artifact that will standardize the collection of data on the process inputs and performance of parts” made with LPBF 3D printing. Some of UTEP’s industrial, academic, and government partners will reproduce the artifact in order to collect this data and add it to a repository, which will hopefully result in more confidence in 3D printed parts and the process itself.

Finally, another $1 million was granted to the Georgica Tech Research Corporation (GTRC), which supports research and technological developments at the Georgia Institute of Technology. GTRC will work to analyze the data gathered during LPBF 3D printing to not only control the manufacturing process, but also predict the completed parts’ final properties. While the focus at the beginning will be on a titanium alloy that could have potential applications in both the aerospace and healthcare industries, the main goal will be to set up an all-inclusive framework that can be used to qualify, verify, and validate LPBF printed parts.

In another phase in the first half of 2021, NIST also plans to award additional projects with grant money.

(Sources: ExecutiveGov and NIST)

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