Mechanical engineering professors to help develop a universal 3D printer

UNIVERSITY PARK, PA – The National Science Foundation recently awarded researchers at the Penn State Department of Mechanical Engineering (ME) a ​​$ 500,000 grant to develop the science behind a universal 3D printer.

Paris von Lockette, Principal Investigator of the Fellowship and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering, and Zoubeida Ounaies, Professor of Mechanical Engineering, will collaborate to bring new knowledge related to the processing of polymer matrix composites.

“While we don’t try to build a 3D printer with this work, we are developing the science that can underpin the processing techniques that can be incorporated into it. This represents a technological path for the field, ”said von Lockette.

Ounaies added, “We are showing a path towards achieving a universal 3D printer by examining basic science.”

Researchers will further explore smart materials and directly apply this knowledge to additive manufacturing, commonly referred to as 3D printing.

“Additive manufacturing is inherently multidisciplinary, so you have to draw on it from different areas to take it forward,” Ounaies said.

Currently, when multiple materials are used to 3D print parts, multiple tanks and complex machines must also be used. This research aims to simplify and streamline the process by extracting the necessary materials from a single source and applying transformative properties to the appropriate molecules.

“By applying coupled electromagnetic fields, you can make the material conductive, rigid, conformal, truly flexible, insulating, magnetic, or non-magnetic,” said von Lockette. “All of this can be done by altering the micro-architectures that form in the material, so you don’t have to switch between different reservoirs. “

Using this method, the researchers intend to develop a process where monolithic parts with locally dichotomous properties can be additively manufactured depending on their destination.

This interdisciplinary project deepens and merges knowledge in additive manufacturing and smart materials, areas in which the ME department has historical and emerging strengths.

“There is a periphery of science around additive manufacturing,” said von Lockette. “This is where mechanical engineering is headed; we’re expanding into new areas and that’s where innovations will happen.


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