Manufacturing Bits: April 28

CIA and 3D printers; satellite cooling devices; U.S. manufacturing consortium.


CIA and 3D printers
Voxel8, a supplier of 3D printers, has closed a strategic investment and technology development agreement with In-Q-Tel (IQT), the venture capital arm of the U.S. Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).

Voxel8, founded by technologists from Harvard University, is commercializing a new platform for 3D printing. The company enables engineers to create products with embedded 3D electronics.

Current 3D printers create parts from thermoplastic polymers or resins. In contrast, using Voxel8’s 3D printers, users can co-print matrix materials, such as thermoplastics and conductive silver inks. This, in turn, enables customized electronic devices like quadcopter drones, electromagnets and fully functional 3D electromechanical assemblies.

CT scan of a 3D printed quadcopter, which shows the traces, the embedded PCB, and motors (Source: Voxel8)

CT scan of a 3D printed quadcopter drone, which shows the traces, the embedded PCB, and motors (Source: Voxel8)

“We are pleased to be partnering with Voxel8 to further develop its multi-material 3D printing technology,” said Megan Anderson, vice president of field deployable technologies at IQT, on the agency’s Web site. “The customization enabled by Voxel8’s technology allows users to quickly create new devices without the inconvenience of tooling, inventory, and supply chains associated with traditional manufacturing methods.”

Satellite cooling devices
The Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) and ThermAvant Technologies are co-developing new and innovative passive cooling device for satellites and other systems.

With funding from the Air Force Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) program, ThermAvant is developing a so-called Oscillating Heat Pipe (OHP) technology. OHP is classified as a passive cooling device. But it operates like an active, fluidly-pumped device, in which thermal energy from a heat source is converted to kinetic energy.

The technology is being tested by manufacturers of several major commercial, military satellite and aerospace systems. OHP could reduce the temperature of high-power satellite components. This, in turn, improves the reliability of processors and other chips within a system. ThermAvant’s prototype OHP-embedded heat spreaders provide an 84% reduction in the temperature rise across the heat spreader, when compared to current state-of-the-art technologies.

Illustrated tubular 5-turn closed-loop OHP (Source:  ThermAvant)

Illustrated tubular 5-turn closed-loop OHP (Source: ThermAvant)

AFRL and ThermAvant began researching the technology some time ago. During the first year of this Phase II SBIR, ThermAvant transitioned OHP-based thermal management solutions to four major defense contractors for six applications on platforms ranging from Army tanks, to Navy ships, and Air Force aircraft and spacecraft.

The new Air Force project calls for a reliable, high-conductivity heat spreader. ThermAvant demonstrated the improved heat transfer properties of different structural materials, such as aluminum, titanium, copper and copper molybdenum composites.

“If successful, this technology solution could be headed for every major DoD space system, where it will replace the current, state-of-the-art technology developed during SBIR programs 10 years ago,” said Greg Spanjers, the chief scientist of AFRL’s Space Vehicles Directorate, on the agency’s Web site.

U.S. manufacturing consortium
The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and the National Science Foundation (NSF) will establish a new consortium. The idea is to provide private‐sector input on advanced manufacturing R&D priorities in the United States.

NSF will have the administrative responsibility for the consortium. NIST will have responsibility for consortium-organized conferences and outreach activities.

NSF has released a solicitation for potential funding in the consortium. Agencies will provide funding of up to $2 million per year for up to three years, with no cost share required. Applications are due July 20, 2015.

The consortium is being established as part of an effort to develop more manufacturing-related technologies in the United States. In 2013, the United States launched the Advanced Manufacturing Partnership Steering Committee 2.0 (AMP 2.0). AMP 2.0 was a renewed, cross-sector, national effort to create manufacturing jobs and bolster America’s global competitiveness.

At the time, the United States launched the Nationwide Network for Manufacturing Innovation (NNMI) program. The idea is create an initial network of up to 15 institutes. The Obama Administration has made investing in manufacturing technologies a priority, increasing federal manufacturing research and development investment by a third to nearly $2 billion annually.

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