The National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence (NCAME) at Auburn University in Alabama has received a $3 million grant from the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), which will support a two-year research project aimed at improving commercial air travel with 3D printed metal components.
The research project will place a particular focus on an issue relevant across metal AM: the variability of parts with the same design 3D printed on different metal AM systems. To address this, the NCAME research team will be printing metal parts using a number of metal additive manufacturing machines and analyzing them. The research will also investigate the influence of microscopic features in 3D printed metal on fatigue and fracture properties.
“This is what I call the ‘Achilles heel’ of additive manufacturing,” explained NCAME director Nima Shamsaei, Philpott-WestPoint Stevens Distinguished Associate Professor of mechanical engineering. “Such variations make the qualification and certification of AM materials and parts challenging.”
Ultimately, the findings of the $3 million research project will help the FAA to establish AM specifications for the commercial aviation sector. The FAA hopes that safety can be improved in the sector by standardizing certification of existing and emerging structural applications of advanced materials. “By understanding the sources of variability, controlling them, or accounting for them, we can generate more reliable materials data, and more reliable AM products,” added Shamsaei, who is also the project’s co-principle investigator.
The partnership will combine the FAA’s expertise in aerospace standards with NCAME’s extensive knowledge of additive manufacturing and metal materials. NCAME was founded in 2017 through a collaboration between NASA and Auburn University, and is notable as being one of the founding partners of the ASTM International Additive Manufacturing Center of Excellence.
“By teaming our faculty, who are global leaders in research on additively manufactured metal components, with the top engineers and scientists at FAA, we are confident that we can develop new knowledge that will help engineers design safer, more efficient aircraft,” commented Steve Taylor, associate dean for research and co-principal investigator. “Auburn University is honored to be collaborating with the FAA.”
The AM project is a multi-disciplinary endeavor with researchers from the fields of mechanical engineering, computer and electrical engineering and industrial and systems engineering. Notably, the project is being managed by Mike Ogles, Director of NASA Programs.