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Dhruv Bhate, an associate professor of manufacturing engineering in The Polytechnic School and principal investigator on the America Makes grant

Dhruv Bhate, an associate professor of manufacturing engineering in The Polytechnic School and principal investigator on the America Makes grant, examines a continuous carbon fiber composite honeycomb. Photographer: Erika Gronek/ASU

ASU driving advances in metal additive manufacturing

3D printing technology is taking the world by storm and driving the creation of houses, prosthetic limbs, dental implants and more.

By Amanda Stoneman

Convergence magazine > ASU driving advances in metal additive manufacturing

A growing area of interest within the field is metal additive manufacturing, the industrial version of 3D printing applied to metals.

America Makes, the national accelerator for additive manufacturing, chose Arizona State University to lead a $1 million directed project opportunity to advance additive manufacturing post-processing techniques. The Air Force Research Laboratory will fund the project with matching funds from ASU and its three research collaborators.

The project evolved out of the thriving collaboration between the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering and Phoenix Analysis and Design Technologies, Inc., a globally recognized provider of numerical simulation, product development and 3D printing.

Associate Professor Dhruv Bhate will serve as the project’s principal investigator. Phoenix Heat Treating, Inc. and Quintus Technologies round out the research team.

“This directed project opportunity places us in a leadership position in metal additive manufacturing,” says Ann McKenna, director of The Polytechnic School. “Our school has the largest additive manufacturing academic research facility in the Southwest, which makes us uniquely qualified for the project.”

This project is the first time ASU is leading an America Makes project since the additive manufacturing accelerator was established in 2012.

The research team will gain a deeper understanding of how mechanical properties of additive manufactured metal structures — such as stiffness, strength and fatigue life — change as a function of size.

A deeper understanding of how 3D-printed structures behave

In particular, the project team will be looking at mechanical properties of as-built metal structures — meaning the parts pulled straight out of the printer without any machining.

When metal parts come out of the printer, the surface is not shiny and smooth like one might expect from traditional metal machining. As-built structures are rough, which introduces many challenges. When loads are applied for some period of time, taken off or reversed and then applied again — a concept known as fatigue — cracks can initiate and significantly reduce the component’s lifespan.

“If we are to reach the full potential of metal additive manufacturing, we need to understand and be able to predict how 3D-printed structures behave under these loads,” says Bhate.

The project team will also explore the fundamental reasons for how mechanical properties change during post-processing techniques, such as hot isostatic pressing.

The Polytechnic School researchers will be responsible for the additive manufacturing of parts and mechanical testing.

Phoenix Heat Treating and Quintus Technologies will be responsible for heat treatment and hot isostatic pressing, respectively, to determine the outcome of subjecting thin parts to different thermal conditions.

Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies will prepare digital 3D scans so researchers can examine surface defects, roughness and the size of parts printed.

The team’s research has the potential to impact a range of industries, including commercial aviation, defense, health care, space exploration and the wider transportation sector. Whether designing critical parts for automobiles, prosthetics or spacecraft, metal additive manufacturing is at the forefront of innovation.