With Machinery Purchases, Small Can be Beautiful


ISE Magazine Volume: 49 Number: 04
By Michelle Cometa

Additive manufacturing center offers opportunities for students, research and development

In 1980, it took 25 jobs to generate $1 million in manufacturing output in the United States, according to The Brookings Institution. Today, it takes five jobs. The need for new ways to manufacture goods is as strong as the need to innovate how manufacturing is done.

The AMPrint Center at Rochester Institute of Technology is positioned to make an impact in that competitive reality – investing in and conducting innovative additive manufacturing research and leading new equipment, materials and product development. The center opened last fall, bringing together university and corporate partners to advance two industries the region is noted for – printing and imaging. The AMPrint Center has industry-level equipment, most of it rarely seen in universities. It also has faculty and corporate researchers that engage all levels of students from the university’s undergraduate to doctoral programs. Together they are conducting groundbreaking research, while also training students for the future workforce.

Foundation for learning

This type of educational foundation is what Denis Cormier had in mind when he envisioned the center.

Cormier is the director of the New York State Center for Advanced Technology in Additive Manufacturing and Multi- Functional Printing – the AMPrint Center. The Earl W. Brinkman Professor of Industrial and Systems Engineering in RIT’s Kate Gleason College of Engineering specializes in 3-D printing and additive manufacturing. The AMPrint Center is one of the first centers in the country to focus on multifunctional 3-D printing, and he has ensured that students are a part of that effort.

RIT’s reputation in this field led to the university being integral to seven of 14 Manufacturing USA initiatives, a network of institutes that aims to reach across manufacturing, government and academia with public-private partnerships that drive early-stage research and propel new products to the market. Cormier and the AMPrint Center team are key contributors to two of those seven national endeavors – – Nex— NextFlex (flexible hybrid electronics) and America Makes (additive manufacturing and multifunctional printing).

Whereas 3-D printing has long been used to make structural components, the multifunctional 3-D printing technologies being developed at the AMPrint Center allow part fabrication using materials that serve thermal, electrical, optical, magnetic and other functions. This ability to print multiple functional materials within a single component for better performance will have significant ramifications for how new products are designed and fabricated.

One of those companies, Vader Systems, a Buffalo startup, developed an innovative new process that jets droplets of molten metal in order to 3-D print metal, rather than plastic, parts. RIT installed the world’s first Mk1 liquid metal 3-D printer from Vader Systems in early June. The university-corporate partnership is integral to the growing 3-D printing/additive manufacturing initiatives taking place in New York state. Research into further enhancements to an already innovative system is underway, specifically in the area of new materials processing and system design.

Vader Systems developed its liquid metal 3-D printing process using a faster and more cost-effective approach than existing technologies. Its Mk1 is a molten-metal, drop-on-demand 3-D printer. It is conceptually similar to ink-jet printing, except it jets metal droplets to produce 3-D-printed objects. The standard way of 3-D printing metal parts today fuses metal powders using expensive lasers. Powdered metals are extremely expensive, and the fusion process is lengthy. Using the Mk1 system, low-cost metal wire is liquefied in a high-temperature ceramic chamber and jetted through a precision, ceramic nozzle to print each layer at extremely high speeds.

Both Vader Systems and AMPrint Center researchers will continue to update the Mk1’s capabilities, specifically exploring expanded use of metals, including high-strength aluminum alloys and higher temperature aerospace materials. They also will work to improve the equipment, which is considered breakthrough technology because of its high-speed processing and lower cost to produce parts. Projects underway include, but are not limited to, qualifying new aluminum alloys, research and development on higher temperature metals such as copper and steel, and eventually working with Vader Systems to develop a multinozzle jet printer.

Student projects vary in complexity as Cormier teaches both undergraduate and graduate courses. He is academic advisor to doctoral students in RIT’s engineering, science and imaging colleges. During one course, he had undergraduates produce 3-D-printed musical instruments. The engineering professor’s assignment, while whimsical, was to build an orchestra, taking advantage of state-of-the-art rapid prototyping and 3-D printing equipment in RIT’s Brinkman Lab. One team printed a ukulele, adding four strings, frets and tuning pegs to the instrument. In another project, a football helmet with 3-D-printed, custom protective padding was developed by a multidisciplinary team led by a biomedical engineering student. The 3-D-printed padding is intended to help prevent concussions.