Weekly Tech Roundup | Jan 4, 2019

Weekly tech roundup: 3D printing technology special edition

The global 3D printing market is projected to reach $44,393.1 million by 2025, making it a lucrative industry and prime business opportunity. TechLink happens to have six innovative 3D printing technologies in our database that were invented in defense labs and are available to businesses for licensing and product development.

Also read: Business Innovation is Risky: How Technology Transfer Can Help

Here’s this week’s 3D printing tech roundup:

Optimized solid propellant manufacturing through 3D printing

The shape, size, and density of a propellant grain used in ammunition determine the burn time, amount of gas, and rate of gas production. So propellant needs to be processed into a stable shape. Currently, propellants are extruded, rolled, or tumbled in machines similar to those that manufacture pasta or candies. This tends to limit the shape of the grains to extruded playdough shapes, or slabs that obtain between 80-95% maximum performance.

Army researchers have invented a process to produce a grain geometry that will result in a constant pressure in a gun (or rocket) over the ballistic cycle. The result is a novel grain that is 100% of potential by design.

Applications include gun propellant grain designs, rocket motor grains that would have geometries impossible to build with a removable mandrel, in addition to solid structures with occluded or embedded shapes and, interestingly, time-release pharmaceuticals.

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Improved slicer algorithms for 3D printing

3D printing machines rely on geometric algorithms known as slicers to convert an input, in the form of a 3D geometric model, into a series of commands that drive the motions and actions of the printing head. Common slicer algorithms apply predetermined geometric transformations to each slice and fail to take into account the overall geometry of the part being produced. This explicit evaluation method can lead to structural problems such as thin walls and gaps that degrade the overall integrity of the part.

Navy researchers have developed implicit methods which use a designer-defined in-fill pattern for each layer. This enables an infinite number of in-fills which yields parts with specified and closely controlled structural integrity.

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A 3D printed building created by the Army Corps of Engineers, ERDC. The gantry mounted printer is seen at far right.

Michael Jazdyk/Army

Large format 3D printing for building construction

One new use of 3D printing is in large structures such as buildings. Print heads are very good at printing homogeneous materials, but when they are tasked with printing concrete, which contains aggregate, they don't work as well.

Army engineers have developed a 3D printing system which is capable of printing with multiple different printing materials, including homogeneous materials, such as cement paste, or heterogeneous materials, such as concrete.

The integrated, computer-controlled apparatus includes a pump assembly, noses, and printhead assembly.

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Point-of-use design & fabrication of printed circuit boards

Acquiring new or improved printed circuit boards (PCBs) in the field can be challenging. In addition to transportation, PCBs usually require multiple prototypes to be designed, produced, and tested.

A Navy engineer has disclosed a novel process for the production of PCBs via a mobile, 3D printing platform, which allows for the integration of holes, pads, and other structures in the printed substrate. Once printed, the board is coated with a conductive layer and pressed (mechanical or vapor pressure) into voids. After that, the board is baked to the point of paste hardening. From there, holes can be drilled for conductive paths and components installed.

Using this system, PCBs can be produced on temporary or mobile locations, such as ships, land vehicles, construction sites, spacecraft, underwater facilities, ocean oil wells, or Antarctic locations.

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Sheath flow 3D printer head

The Navy has pioneered and advanced a technique in controlling flow at the micro-scale called sheath flow. This revolutionary system uses static geometric features to sculpt material distributions.

Researchers have adapted this innovation and fabricated blood vessels with endothelial cells that, when coupled with the appropriate growth matrix and conditions, resulted in an operational vasculature system that can eliminate waste, generate new vessels, and sustain growth for over three months.

This microfluidic handling innovation is readily adaptable to 3D printing.

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Integrating foreign parts into 3D printed structures

3D printers are capable of printing novel geometries not possible via traditional methods of manufacturing. We are now seeing high-stress, narrow-tolerance end-user components made via 3D printing. However, most printers can only print with one material at a time and cannot print overhangs or objects directly supported from layers. Integration of different alloys, foreign parts, sensors, or structures cannot be printed into a 3D part.

Navy researchers have developed a method for the bonding of foreign items or parts during the 3D printing process via a eutectic alloy solder. This technology is particularly suited for embedded sensors operating in harsh environments where external sensors would not survive. These may include corrosive environments with extreme thermal and shock loading.

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Headshot Image of Austin Leach, PhD, CLP

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