U of M building $2M lab for 3D metal printing
The University of Memphis is investing $2 million into a metal 3D printing lab that could help revolutionize manufacturing in industries like aerospace and medical devices.
The school is outfitting a lab, which should be up and running by April, with two metal printers that can create anything from a kneecap to a part for a plane.
The university already has partnerships with local companies FedEx and Medtronic to develop the science behind 3D printing in metal, as opposed to the more common plastic, and to explore its possible uses. Researchers, however, have had to send their work hundreds of miles away to be printed. Metal printing requires much higher temperatures and a larger machine than the plastic ones that have found their way into high school classrooms.
That will change with the new lab on the U of M campus, and students from several departments will be able to take advantage, top mechanical engineering researchers Ali Fatemi and Ebrahim Asadi said.
“There are several universities that are heavily investing in this, not just in terms of the research capabilities but also in terms of education,” Fatemi said.
Future employees, he said, will have to know this technology as it becomes a key part of several industries.
Fatemi, chairman of the mechanical engineering department, researches ways 3D printing can help the aerospace industry.
Because of their size--a mediumsized one has a printing chamber of about one square foot — the printers can create small-scale prototypes of airplane parts that can be tested for their durability before a company would invest in creating the life-sized version.
And in aerospace, unlike the automotive industry, planes are often older and requires parts in smaller numbers that are no longer made. FedEx could have to wait a month for a necessary part to be created. Printing in metal could change that, Fatemi said.
Another use could be on a military aircraft carrier that requires a specific part for a plane could have trouble acquiring one while at sea.
Asadi’s research focuses on biomedical technology, like metal implants.
The way implants are currently manufactured, he said, they come standard for every part.
“You want to have parts that match the anatomy of a specific person,” Asadi said. “You don’t want to have your implant, and have your surgeon have to work like a carpenter on your implant while your body is wide open.”
The researchers are also working on developing a metal that would dissolve inside a body. Someone who breaks a bone and has to have a plate or screws implanted wouldn’t require a second surgery to have them removed.
Asadi said there is much still unknown about the practical uses of melting metal, but he expects it to “revolutionize” technology in both aerospace and the creation of medical devices — two industries that have large footprints in Memphis.
“Over the next five years, these two industries, in my opinion, will lead the way,” he said.
An example of metal produced by a 3D printer UNIVERSITY OF MEMPHIS