U of M build­ing $2M lab for 3D metal print­ing

The Commercial Appeal - - News - Jen­nifer Pig­no­let Mem­phis Com­mer­cial Ap­peal USA TO­DAY NET­WORK - TEN­NESSEE Reach Jen­nifer Pig­no­let at jen­nifer.pig­no­let@com­mer­cialap­peal.com or on Twit­ter @JenPig­no­let.

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

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