Manufacturing Bits: Jan. 5

New materials for 3D printing; large-scale DSA; new NIST projects.


New materials for 3D printing
HRL Laboratories has developed a new ceramic technology for 3D printing. The technology overcomes the limits of traditional ceramic processing, thereby enabling high-strength components.

Ceramics are much more difficult to process than traditional 3D printing materials, such as polymers or metals, according to HRL, a corporate R&D laboratory owned by The Boeing Company and General Motors. Generally, ceramics cannot be cast or machined easily. So, ceramic parts are consolidated from powders by sintering. This, in turn, introduces porosity and limits both achievable shapes and final strength.

In response, HRL devised a new resin formulation. It can be 3D printed into parts of any shape and size. The printed resin can then be fired, which, in turn, converts it into a high-strength, fully-dense ceramic. The material can withstand temperatures in excess of 1,700°C and show strength ten times higher than similar materials.

A new 3D printing material (Source:  HRL)

A new 3D printing material (Source: HRL)

Specifically, HRL devised preceramic monomers. The materials are cured with ultraviolet light in a stereolithography 3D printer or through a patterned mask. Using this approach, researchers have devised silicon oxycarbide microlattices and honeycomb cellular materials with no porosity.

“With our new 3D printing process we can take full advantage of the many desirable properties of this silicon oxycarbide ceramic, including high hardness, strength and temperature capability as well as resistance to abrasion and corrosion,” said Tobias Schaedler, a program manager at HRL, on the company’s Web site.

Large-scale DSA
Directed self-assembly (DSA) is a technology that uses block co-polymers to reduce the features sizes in next-generation devices.

How about a DSA technology that enlarges structures?

HRL, for one, is working on such a technology. HRL’s new and so-called Billion particle per second Nanoparticle Assembly project will develop processes to assemble nanoscale materials. Working in conjunction with so-called “intelligent materials solution” technology, HRL hopes to assemble nanoscale particles to create a finished component that is 1 million times larger than its individual building blocks.

“Current nanoscale fabrication techniques, such as vacuum deposition, are limited in speed and scalability,” said Adam Gross, a researcher at HRL, on its Web site. “Our goal is to develop a rapid, fundamentally new method that enables intricate 3-D millimeter-scale components made from a wide selection of nanoscale elements.”

This project is funded under the Atoms to Product (A2P) program through the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) and the Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL).

Looking for new projects
The U.S. Commerce Department’s National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has issued a notice of intent to fund up to two institutes as part of the National Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI).

This will be the first NNMI solicitation in which the funding agency has not predetermined an institute’s focus area. But for these projects, NIST is interested in robotics and biopharmaceutical manufacturing.

“A concerted effort is needed to advance robotics beyond current limited applications to widespread adoption by a broader set of sectors and manufacturers of all sizes,” according to NIST. “To achieve this, advanced robotic systems need to be highly-capable, perceptive, dexterous, mobile, and relocatable. Advanced robotic systems must operate safely in collaboration with humans or other robots, be tasked and re-tasked easily, and be integrated into the rest of the enterprise seamlessly and quickly.”

For its first institutes, the Commerce Department will provide up to a total of $70 million per institute over five to seven years. Commerce funding must be matched by private and other non-federal sources.

The NNMI Institutes bring together manufacturers, universities, community colleges, federal agencies and state organizations with the goal of bridging the gap between basic research and product development. Seven institutes are already operating across the country, with two more under formation, funded primarily by the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy.