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Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Not Your Father’s 3D Printing

New techniques push component-based additive manufacturing to full systems prototypes

CAMBRIDGE, Mass. – From concept models to design iterations and low-rate production, 3D printing has quickly emerged as a means of visually communicating ideas, trying out designs before committing to expensive production runs and even fixing parts. But conventional additive manufacturing equipment does not have the ability to efficiently print both the mechanical structure and the associated electronics. As a result, engineers must still design and fabricate parts separately and then assemble them into the final system, potentially taking several days to do this. Even that brief period can be a significant impediment when engineers are responding to an urgent need from customers.

“Designers are not able to fully leverage the benefits and promise of additive manufacturing because we don’t have additive manufacturing tools that can simultaneously print both the structure of a part as well as the integrated electronics,” said Christopher DiBiasio, Draper’s group leader for advanced manufacturing.

To address this shortcoming of additive manufacturing, Draper Laboratory has teamed with the University of Texas at El Paso to create 3D printing capabilities that deliver fully integrated electro-mechanical working prototypes within a few hours to enable engineers to press forward with their testing in shorter time frames and with fewer interruptions. America Makes, which facilitates collaboration among leaders from business, academia, non-profit organizations and government agencies to help the United States grow capabilities in additive manufacturing, announced on July 13 that it will contribute a grant to the team worth $1 million over 18 months to develop unique capabilities, build revolutionary applications and deliver prototypes that demonstrate a new approach.

“This project will create a new class of additive manufacturing equipment that will allow designers to quickly design and fabricate systems in new and exciting ways that were previously impossible,” explained DiBiasio.

Draper’s contribution to the project includes electro-mechanical systems expertise honed on biomedical engineering programs for commercial customers and government agencies, as well as on defense systems for the government. Other team members include Stratasys, which provides fused deposition modeling; Northrop Grumman, which is identifying fabrication requirements; and Applied Systems and Technology Transfer, which is contributing towards education and workforce development outreach.

In addition to helping speed development timeframes, more sophisticated additive manufacturing techniques will improve designs and architectures for a number of fields including aerospace systems allowing, for example, antennas and sensors to be built directly into satellite or aircraft structures rather than attaching them to the exterior.

Draper’s additive manufacturing capabilities and unique processes can build hardware, including antennas, that have more functionality in a smaller volume, leading to new designs and more capable systems.
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