Suman Das, a professor in the George W. Woodruff School of Mechanical Engineering, has developed an all-digital approach that allows a part to be made directly from its computer-aided design (CAD). The project, sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), has received $4.65 million in funding.
“We have developed a proof-of-concept system which is already turning out complex metal parts, and which fundamentally transforms the way that very high-value castings are made,” said Das, who directs the Direct Digital Manufacturing Laboratory in Georgia Tech’s Manufacturing Research Center (MaRC). “We're confident that our approach can lower costs by at least 25 percent and reduce the number of unusable waste parts by more than 90 percent, while eliminating 100 percent of the tooling.”
The approach being utilized by Das and his team focuses on a technique called investment casting, also known as lost-wax casting. In this process, which dates back thousands of years, molten metal is poured into an expendable ceramic mold to form a part.
The mold is made by creating a wax replica of the part to be cast, surrounding or "investing" the replica with a ceramic slurry, and then drying the slurry and hardening it to form the mold. The wax is then melted out – or lost – to form a mold cavity into which metal can be poured and solidified to produce the casting.
Investment casting is used to create precision parts across diverse industries including aerospace, energy, biomedical and electronics. Das’s current efforts are focused on parts used in aircraft engines. He is working with turbine-engine airfoils – complex parts used in jet engines – in collaboration with the University of Michigan and PCC Airfoils.
Today, Das explained, most precision metal castings are designed on computers, using computer-aided design software. But the next step – creating the ceramic mold with which the part is cast – currently involves a sequence of six major operations requiring expensive precision-machined dies and hundreds of tooling pieces.
"The result is a costly process that typically produces many defective molds and waste parts before a useable prototype is achieved," Das said. "This trial-and-error development phase often requires many months to cast a part that is accurate enough to enter the next stage, which involves testing and evaluation."
By contrast, Das’s approach involves a device that builds ceramic molds directly from a CAD design, completing the task much faster and producing far fewer unusable parts. Called Large Area Maskless Photopolymerization (LAMP), this high-resolution digital process accretes the mold layer by layer by projecting bitmaps of ultraviolet light onto a mixture of photosensitive resin and ceramic particles, and then selectively curing the mixture to a solid.
The technique places one 100-micron layer on top of another until the structure is complete. After the mold is formed, the cured resin is removed through binder burnout and the remaining ceramic is sintered in a furnace. The result is a fully ceramic structure into which molten metal – such as nickel-based superalloys or titanium-based alloys – are poured, producing a highly accurate casting.
“The LAMP process lowers the time required to turn a CAD design into a test-worthy part from a year to about a week,” Das said. “We eliminate the scrap and the tooling, and each digitally manufactured mold is identical to the others.”
A prototype LAMP alpha machine is currently building six typical turbine-engine airfoil molds in six hours. Das predicts that a larger beta machine – currently being built at Georgia Tech and scheduled for installation at a PCC Airfoils facility in Ohio in 2012 – will produce 100 molds at a time in about 24 hours.
Although the current work focuses on turbine-engine airfoils, Das believes the LAMP technique will be effective in the production of many types of intricate metal parts. He envisions a scenario in which companies could send out part designs to digital foundries and receive test castings within a short time, much as integrated-circuit designers send CAD plans to chip foundries today.
Moreover, he said, direct digital manufacturing enabled by LAMP should allow designers to create increasingly sophisticated pieces capable of achieving greater efficiency in jet engines and other systems.
“This process can produce parts of a complexity that designers could only dream of before,” he said. “The digital technique takes advantage of high-resolution optics and precision motion systems to achieve extremely sharp, small features – on the order of 100 microns.”
Das also noted that the new process not only creates testable prototypes but could also be used in the actual manufacturing process. That would allow more rapid production of complex metal parts, in both low and high volumes, at lower costs in a variety of industries.
“When you can produce desired volumes in a short period without tooling,” he said, “you have gone beyond rapid prototyping to true rapid manufacturing.”
The project depicted in this article is sponsored by the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency; the content of this article does not necessarily reflect the position or the policy of the government, and no official endorsement should be inferred.Research News & Publications Office
Writer: Rick Robinson
John Toon | Newswise Science News
Interfacial Superconductivity: Magnetic and superconducting order revealed simultaneously
17.01.2017 | Sonderforschungsbereich 668
Manchester scientists tie the tightest knot ever achieved
13.01.2017 | University of Manchester
Researchers from the University of Hamburg in Germany, in collaboration with colleagues from the University of Aarhus in Denmark, have synthesized a new superconducting material by growing a few layers of an antiferromagnetic transition-metal chalcogenide on a bismuth-based topological insulator, both being non-superconducting materials.
While superconductivity and magnetism are generally believed to be mutually exclusive, surprisingly, in this new material, superconducting correlations...
Laser-driving of semimetals allows creating novel quasiparticle states within condensed matter systems and switching between different states on ultrafast time scales
Studying properties of fundamental particles in condensed matter systems is a promising approach to quantum field theory. Quasiparticles offer the opportunity...
Among the general public, solar thermal energy is currently associated with dark blue, rectangular collectors on building roofs. Technologies are needed for aesthetically high quality architecture which offer the architect more room for manoeuvre when it comes to low- and plus-energy buildings. With the “ArKol” project, researchers at Fraunhofer ISE together with partners are currently developing two façade collectors for solar thermal energy generation, which permit a high degree of design flexibility: a strip collector for opaque façade sections and a solar thermal blind for transparent sections. The current state of the two developments will be presented at the BAU 2017 trade fair.
As part of the “ArKol – development of architecturally highly integrated façade collectors with heat pipes” project, Fraunhofer ISE together with its partners...
At TU Wien, an alternative for resource intensive formwork for the construction of concrete domes was developed. It is now used in a test dome for the Austrian Federal Railways Infrastructure (ÖBB Infrastruktur).
Concrete shells are efficient structures, but not very resource efficient. The formwork for the construction of concrete domes alone requires a high amount of...
Many pathogens use certain sugar compounds from their host to help conceal themselves against the immune system. Scientists at the University of Bonn have now, in cooperation with researchers at the University of York in the United Kingdom, analyzed the dynamics of a bacterial molecule that is involved in this process. They demonstrate that the protein grabs onto the sugar molecule with a Pac Man-like chewing motion and holds it until it can be used. Their results could help design therapeutics that could make the protein poorer at grabbing and holding and hence compromise the pathogen in the host. The study has now been published in “Biophysical Journal”.
The cells of the mouth, nose and intestinal mucosa produce large quantities of a chemical called sialic acid. Many bacteria possess a special transport system...
10.01.2017 | Event News
09.01.2017 | Event News
05.01.2017 | Event News
17.01.2017 | Earth Sciences
17.01.2017 | Materials Sciences
17.01.2017 | Architecture and Construction