Thanks to funding from the Department of Energy and the United States Army, the University of Pittsburgh is proud to own the first Gefertec arc605 3D printer at any university in the country. The giant metal system, which was recently installed in the sub-basement of the university’s Benedum Hall, melts and deposits stainless steel, titanium, and aluminum alloy wires as the starting material to create near-net shapes in layers, and is perfect for printing large, specialized parts that would normally have to be cast and tooled. In addition, it’s faster and less expensive than previous metal AM technologies housed in the U Pitt lab.
“Even on the order of tens of parts, this is very advantageous. And if you want to include some complexity, then you can’t do it any other way than 3D printing,” said 3D printing expert Albert To, the William Kepler Whiteford Professor in the university’s Swanson School of Engineering.
Even though additive manufacturing has been around for many years now, the technology is being adopted more widely the more reliable it becomes, with To noting “a very high interest in industry” with sectors like nuclear power, aerospace, and oil and gas. Casting and tooling is often used for manufacturing large parts like the one Gefertec is capable of producing, but this conventional approach is more expensive, which makes it less than ideal for manufacturing small batch, specialty pieces. That’s why the Gefertec arc605 metal 3D printer is ideal for a university setting, and one of the first projects that To is using the system for is printing a three-foot-long bridge joint that’s no longer manufactured—and the customer is the US Army. To is also using funding from the Army and the DoE to study the process of warping as metals heat and then cool.
Third-year PhD student Xavier Jimenez, who works in To’s lab, is using the Gefertec arc605 to create a process for 3D printing a new type of high-strength aluminum. The material could have potential in the aerospace industry, but it often cracks when it’s welded. This metal 3D printer uses advanced software and five-axis capabilities to rotate and tilt components during the printing process in order to create complex parts, and the hope is that Jimenez can figure out the best optimization for the printer to keep cracking to a minimum.
“You have to tune all these different parameters to figure out what will produce the best-quality weld. Every material behaves a little differently,” Jimenez explained.
Jimenez actually came to the university specifically to work with the Gefertec arc605, but like most everything else in the world in the last couple of years, COVID-19 got in the way of best laid plans. It took three years to finally get the printer onto campus, and once it finally arrived, it then had to be lowered piece by piece into the lab by a crane. Once fully assembled, the system is actually bigger than some studio apartments.
“It was a lot of work to get all the pieces together to get the machine working. We’re very happy that it’s here,” Jimenez said.
Now that the Gefertec arc605 has been installed, the team in To’s lab is testing parameters for 3D printing different metals. The idea is to start modeling how the AM process affects a part, such as warping and changing the material’s microscopic structure, by testing the approach for a variety of materials, and then using X-rays and testing the material properties. Additionally, To is working with colleagues on a different project—embedding fiber optic cables into metal 3D printed parts to create smart components that can sense the deformation and temperature of the part.
Installing cutting-edge technologies, like Gefertec’s, in universities is extremely important for the development of the future workforce. If students learn to use additive manufacturing early, they will be valuable assets after graduation, as they can fit right in with companies that are already using AM, or help get it adopted at businesses that may still be unsure.
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