ORNL provides affordable and convenient access to the R&D expertise, facilities, and equipment needed to develop the best possible 3D printing strategy
The Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) is well-known for some high-profile 3D printing projects, like the Shelby Cobra sports car; the house for the Additive Manufacturing Integrated Energy project; and a replica of a 1952 Willys Jeep, which took only three weeks to print and assemble.
What about lower-profile projects? Can small to medium-sized fabrication shops benefit from the additive manufacturing (AM) research efforts at the Knoxville, Tenn., facility?“About half of the collaborative research agreements that we put on are with small to medium enterprises,” said Craig Blue, director of energy efficiency and renewable energy programs for the Energy and Environmental Sciences Directorate at ORNL.
Through a public-private partnership between the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) and UT-Battelle, the MDF gives businesses of all sizes access to unique research facilities and reduces their risk when adopting cutting-edge AM and composite technologies.Not only does AM remove the traditional limits on part-geometry complexity, it also allows components to be fabricated faster while consuming less material and energy during the production process.
“About a third of the energy that we use in the United States goes into manufacturing, so at MDF we’re trying to understand how to decrease the overall energy use in industry by looking at efficient manufacturing practices,” said MDF Director Bill Peter. He added that saving energy costs when manufacturing components often translates to energy savings in the products those components go into.
“If you can make a lighter vehicle using a low-cost carbon fiber, you have a huge energy reduction in transportation and in energy generation,” he said. “We’re looking at how to use these advanced technologies to create new supply chains, as well as trying out innovative ideas in design and equipment.”
These new technologies significantly affect application areas from aeronautics to robotics to automobiles to biomedical devices. For aerospace components, for example, this design-to-manufacture process has already demonstrated the potential to reduce the buy-to-fly ratio from an industry average of 8-to-1 (that is, 8 pounds of material will produce 1 pound of aerospace-quality material) to nearly 1-to-1.
The Epicenter of Additive
“We want to become the epicenter for advanced manufacturing, so if somebody wants to become more competitive, this place is the tip of the spear,” said Lonnie Love, ORNL Corporate Fellow researcher and leader of the Manufacturing Systems Research Group.“We’re leveraging a $1.8 billion- to $2 billion-a-year R&D shop—the Oak Ridge National Laboratory,” said Love. “Dozens of university students and faculty work here year-round, and about half of the people in this building are co-located from other companies to work side by side with us, which accelerates tech transference.”
And, MDF is committed to developing new manufacturing technologies as quickly as possible.“A year could mean life or death for a company. This is a very competitive market, and to keep up we have to innovate faster than somebody can copy,” said Tom Kurfess, senior distinguished scientist for manufacturing. “You’re going to see state-of-the-art stuff demonstrated in this facility. It’s always the latest technology because it gets changed out every few months.”
Possibly the most valuable and universal application of 3D printing in fabrication shops is tooling.
“At MDF we get about 4,500 visits a year, representing about 700 or 800 companies, and overwhelmingly the area where they have issues is lead times associated with tooling,” said Peter.