Ask an Expert: Bill Murray on Additive Manufacturing

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For this edition of our “Ask an Expert” series, we interviewed Bill Murray, part of the New York Manufacturing Extension Partnership (NY MEP) team. His role is to be New York State’s point person for digital and additive manufacturing, promoting those technologies’ use by small manufacturers to increase their competitiveness and aid in their innovation.

Bill is based at Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT) and coordinates with two of the Manufacturing USA institutes for which RIT plays a lead role: America Makes and the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute

What kinds of New York State manufacturers should be exploring incorporating additive manufacturing or 3D printing?

Additive manufacturing (AM) allows for the production of parts with complexity that can’t be easily matched by traditional manufacturing methods. It can be used to produce features that previously were impossible to machine, and it can produce parts without seams or joints. Complex geometric or organic shapes are often only possible and practical to produce using additive manufacturing methods. But there are still challenges to be met in getting AM into widespread use.  The opportunities and benefits of AM are:

  • Supply chain optimization
  • Greater geometric flexibility
  • Complexity is easy to produce
  • Rapid turnaround, faster time-to-market
  • Customization & redesign opportunities
  • Tooling elimination
  • Operating cost & spare part inventory reduction
  • Sustainability & energy efficiencies
  • Accurate & repeatable
  • Compatible with other processes

I want to share with you a quote from a 2011 article in The Economist that explains the future potential of additive manufacturing (AM):

“Three-dimensional printing makes it as cheap to create single items as it is to produce thousands and thus undermines economies of scale. It may have as profound an impact on the world as the coming of the factory did…. Just as nobody could have predicted the impact of the steam engine in 1750—or the printing press in 1450, or the transistor in 1950—it is impossible to foresee the long-term impact of 3D printing. But the technology is coming, and it is likely to disrupt every field it touches.”

It has been six years since that was written, and AM, through the leadership of America Makes, is becoming more mainstream in manufacturing an application.  Today AM processes can be used for almost all manufacturers that produce hard material products, such as metal, ceramic, composite or plastics.  Examples can range from printed electronic circuit boards, to complex shaped heat exchangers, to molds for various molding applications. It is not very relevant to chemical or food manufacturing as yet. The key factor to remember is that additive manufacturing is not very applicable for large volume manufacturing, at least not yet.  Historically, additive manufacturing has been utilized for rapid prototyping and for complex, small-quantity production applications.

In the future, this technology will be used for new, creative manufacturing such as producing biologic units like human organs and other body parts!

Could you give an example of a company that experienced cost savings by using additive instead of subtractive manufacturing techniques?

Moog, Inc., a Buffalo, New York area company that is a member of America Makes, manufactures, among other things, military aftermarket parts—printing of obsolescent parts, and printing of parts with long lead times.

An example is locking collars for Embraer. Traditionally manufactured parts (subtractive machining) are being produced in parallel with AM locking collars. The AM versions are cheaper than the traditional parts because they require less machining steps (machine time and labor) to produce the part, and because it generates almost no wasted material—unlike traditional subtractive machining operations. The parallel effort will be useful in developing heritage as well as comfort level for the customer and the actual operators handling the hardware.

How about a company that developed a new or improved product that would not be possible using traditional manufacturing? 

Moog also manufactures Integrated Smart Actuators (ISA) for industrial robotic applications. The challenge was to speed integration and system development for robotics engineers to easily connect high energy density motion control axes. Moog produced a highly integrated hydraulic actuator with onboard closed loop position and force control. The benefits were a quick turnaround, and a customized, fully integrated actuator produced in weeks.

What are some of the advances in additive manufacturing / 3D printing that have been made possible through America Makes?

America Makes is the first of the federally-supported Manufacturing USA institutes and opened in 2012. They have managed over 43 projects since inception. Below are a few outcomes:

  • Used additive manufacturing technology and advanced materials to create medical implants to reduce healthcare costs and shorten recovery time for patients requiring reconstruction surgery. The primary objective was to apply materials technology along with AM techniques to produce customized patient specific medical devices from novel biocompatible materials.
  • Developed and demonstrated an open, layered protocol for Powder Bed Fusion Additive Manufacturing (PBFAM). The open protocol now provides a pathway to access laser trajectory and settings, which together with real-time access to process variables and the integration of in-situ sensors, enables researchers to better model PBFAM processes.
  • Established criteria and improved software techniques for design optimization for additive manufacturing.

Bill Murray can be contacted at william.murray@esd.ny.gov.

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