In a fragmented ecosystem companies who seek specific AM expertise sometimes turn to universities – not for experimental futuristic research but for industrially oriented research that can be implemented in additive manufacturing production. Here are a few examples of university-industry collaborations.
The Bigger Goal – Integration
In recent years we have been seeing an increase in wide-scale partnerships – companies teaming together with an interest in pushing forward AM integration. As we know integration calls for various aspects of the AM production chain coming together. BMW, for example, is leading a project called IDAM (Industrialization and Digitization of Additive). The project combines 11 partners and expertise, ranging from automotive representation – BMW, material experts such as GKN Powder Metallurgy, and research facilities such as the Technical University of Munich. The project aims to reduce the manual production phases within the AM production process, to less than 5% as well as reducing the cost of additively manufactured metal parts. In order to do so, the partnership is working on a number of AM related issues such as powder handling, monitoring, and automated post-processing.
Another example, is HI-AM, a program spanning 7 Canadian and 5 international universities such as the University of British Columbia as well as 15 industrial players including Renishaw, and GKN. Together The group aims to increase the adoption rate of metal 3D printing in the traditional manufacturing industry. Within the broad aim of the group, they tackle different issues that can be seen as a hindrance – for instance, surface quality, safety and health standards, and print repeatability.
The Vertical Focus
While IDAM and HI-AM engage in the advancement of AM as an ecosystem, other collaborations between universities and industry players are oriented towards specific verticals. Just last week, America Makes (which in itself includes approximately 220 member organizations) announced a satellite center at Wichita State University’s National Institute for Aviation Research (NIAR). This center will focus solely on AM within the aerospace industry, specifically certification and qualification of additive technologies within the sector. Also, in aerospace, is a collaboration between NASA and Carnegie Mellon University‘s Next Manufacturing Center and Manufacturing Futures Initiative (MFI). The university was chosen by NASA to lead a research team directed towards reducing costs and time of mass-producing aircraft while maintaining standards of quality, reliability, and safety. The wide spectrum of partners within the team such as Lockheed Martin, Trumpf, Eaton, General Electric, Pratt & Whitney, Siemens, and more, can provide both a bird’s eye view as well as a particularized view of the challenges and solutions.
Another type of collaborations can address specific use cases. An RMIT professor, Milan Brandt, is collaborating with the Australian Defence Forces. Here the university research team is working with the national aircraft support service RUAG Australia and the Innovative Manufacturing Cooperative Research Centre developing methods of using laser metal deposition for maintenance, repair & overhaul (MRO) operations – leveraging a certain AM technology for a specific use case. A collaborative effort in developing effective quality assurance method for additively manufactured gas turbine components is also currently taking place. Bringing together researchers from the Swanson School of Engineering, the University of Pittsburgh, the U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) as well as industrial partners such as ANSYS. And Rolls-Royce has been working together with Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore for the last 5 years. The partnership covers a variety of topics – together they have worked on 53 research projects in different areas such as power electronics, and repair and manufacturing technologies. Now they are moving forward, with a joint investment of approx $65 million USD. The outcomes of their previous work are now implemented in the development of future power and propulsion systems as well as in improving manufacturing operations in Singapore and other global Rolls-Royce sites. Next – 29 projects focused on aircraft propulsion.
When it comes to specific applications companies usually prefer to leave the development process in-house yet a collaborative process with a research institute can be beneficial to both sides. Dr Bicky Bhangu, Rolls-Royce President for Southeast Asia, Pacific & South Korea, summed it up nicely, “The Corp Lab is an excellent example of the virtues of collaboration, as championed by Rolls-Royce, of seeking diversity to better understand problems when approached with different mindsets and harness the best ideas to come up with the best solutions. Conversely, it provides academic minds with a valuable window into industrial problems and be able to work together for a common good. It provides a dynamic platform as we move towards a new way of learning and a new way of working.”