Monday, May 19, 2014
Making a Better Future: Professor Jack Beuth is at the forefront of the global trend toward additive manufacturing -- which offers many advantages over traditional techniques
The concept of additive manufacturing — a process by which products are built up, layer by layer — is gaining traction globally, for a number of reasons. Popularly known as 3D printing, this process offers time and cost savings when compared to traditional machining-based production methods.
“Our historic methods of fabricating highly complex products rely on the creation of custom dies and tools, which are expensive and time-consuming to produce,” notes Professor Jack Beuth of MechE. “In addition, there is a lot of waste involved when you are cutting products from a single block of material. It is far more efficient and cheaper to build up materials than to cut them down.”
Beuth is a leading expert in this growing industry, with experience dating back to 1992, when he first joined MechE. “Additive manufacturing created a lot of excitement when we first started talking about it in the 1990s,” says Beuth. “But that excitement waned as we realized there were no methods for building up general shapes with a high degree of precision. We were waiting for a technology breakthrough that would make precise additive manufacturing widely accessible.”
According to Beuth, that breakthrough occurred several years ago, when two companies — Arcam and EOS — launched automated equipment that can produce highly complex product shapes out of metals with the touch of a button. CIT already owns two Arcam machines, which build products through a powder bed electrobeam process. The College is in the process of acquiring an EOS machine, which uses a laser to locally melt powders and form 3D shapes.
Leading a Fast-Growing Field
With affordable, capable technology finally in place, today Jack Beuth is a leader in this rapidly growing industry. He currently is the Principal Investigator for eight funded projects, including a $1.9 million grant from America Makes, the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute in Youngstown, Ohio, aimed at improving powder-bed additive manufacturing processes by broadening the types of powders used as feedstock.
“By exploring a wider range of metal powders, ultimately we hope to make 3D printing feasible not only for small production runs, but also for high-volume manufacturing processes,” says Beuth. A Co-Investigator on this project is Professor Fred Higgs of MechE.
Because additive manufacturing has huge potential in the aerospace industry, many of Beuth’s projects include collaborators such as GE Aviation, Pratt & Whitney, and Lockheed Martin. Beuth is also working with Walter Reed National Military Medical Center to investigate medical applications for additive manufacturing, including the production of highly customized implants.
“There are few areas of mechanical engineering today that are generating as much buzz as additive manufacturing,” says Beuth. “That’s because it is going to revolutionize the production process for highly complex products. Not only can it take time and costs out of both product development and production, but it can support a greater degree of innovation. Engineers can build and test prototypes much more quickly, at a lower financial investment, and with much lower risk.”
“Thanks to Arcam and EOS, the technology to support widespread additive manufacturing is now there,” Beuth concludes. “As researchers, our task is to study new processing methods, and new materials, that fully leverage that technology. Our work is exciting because it truly has the potential to change the face of manufacturing.”