University of Nebraska researchers believe new 3-D printer technology will revolutionize the manufacturing industry and hope a new $1.5 million lab will be at the forefront.

“We have instruments here that are not found anywhere else in the world,” said Jeff Shield, department chairperson of Mechanical and Materials Engineering.

The Nebraska Engineering Additive Technology Lab (NEAT) features three cutting-edge 3-D printers that can build a variety of materials — from plastics to titanium — to create complex three-dimensional designs.

“We can build if from aluminum, all the way to titanium, tungsten, you name it,” Mechanical and Materials Engineering Associate Professor Prahalada Rao said.

Located in the University of Nebraska–Lincoln’s Scott Engineering Center, the lab allows Husker researchers and students to create projects using highly reactive materials. This process accommodates for creation of intricate geometries, such as lattice structures and complex internal cooling channels for aerospace applications.

“This is incredibly rare, unique equipment that we’re now able to access,” said Michael Sealy, assistant professor of mechanical and materials engineering.

These printers have the ability to produce military aircraft parts near combat zones and build a hard to find replacement part to an old farm tractor within hours.

Additive technology uses high watt infra-red lasers to fuse together metallic powers layer upon layer to build a part.

“It has the capabilities to make complex parts easier,” Shields said.

3-D printers use a third of the material used in normal parts production, can be done automatically within hours, and the specifications are simply loaded into a computer.

Sealy said students are also excited about getting to use the printers. A new additive manufacturing course, which will be taught by Sealy and Rao, has been added to take advantage of the new technology.

According to Rao, the University will use the printers to do research on the technology and hopes this will spark collaborations with businesses and industries.

“Nebraska is positioning itself as a hub for additive manufacturing in a variety of industries, including agricultural equipment, manufacturing and biomedical,” Rao said. “If this research is successful, it will have a huge impact on how quickly and reliably we can turn around new products and designs, spurring innovation in Nebraska.”

Nebraska Today
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