A new 3D printer housed in the College of Engineering gives researchers and students the ability to build items like heat-resistant parts for jet engines and detailed surgical implants. The $400,000 MLab Cusing 200R model printer, provided by Honeywell, showcases a major advancement in 3D printing: the ability to create metal objects.
3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing, transforms digital designs into physical objects by depositing molten material one layer at a time to harden into a 3D shape. This new machine can "print" metal objects by laser-melting metal powders such as stainless steel, nickel alloys and titanium. This is the first and only machine on campus with the ability to do so.
“Additive manufacturing opens up a freedom for designing new components for aerospace, biomedical and automotive applications that you couldn’t make any other way,” said MSE assistant professor Andrew Wessman, whose lab is housing the equipment. “This machine opens up opportunities for collaborations across the college and across campus – with optical sciences, architecture and even fine arts.”
The use of 3D printing in space exploration is specifically highlighted in the university’s strategic plan. For example, astronauts may someday repurpose regolith, or loose rocky material found on distant planets, to 3D-print replacements for broken spaceship parts.
While many additive manufacturing programs are led by mechanical engineers working to optimize the fabrication process, materials science and engineering researchers are leading the University of Arizona initiative. The department is designing better materials at the outset to produce stronger and more lightweight structures.
“The research we’re doing here will allow people to use the metals more effectively, or to use different kinds of metal alloy,” Wessman said. “We want to identify metal alloys that are really resistant to high temperatures encountered by objects like jet engines or rockets and create better engines that are still printable.”
The machine also opens up new educational opportunities. Wessman will be teaching a metal additive manufacturing course, open to students across campus, beginning in fall 2020.