3-D printers offer new manufacturing options

Henry Zhang’s Multidisciplinary Design Laboratory (MDL) is home to the state’s largest self-built 3-D printer. In fact, it was used to create many of its own pieces.

A 3-D printer is one of the necessities for additive manufacturing. It gives manufacturers the flexibility to produce parts with complicated features and with a lot less expense than casting a part. It is also a convenient way to make a prototype, directly converting a CAD 3-D-modeled design. It has many applications in future manufacturing industry.

For different materials, there are different kinds of 3D printers available on the market. The 3-D printer in MDL lab uses plastic wire feed as its material supply. The printer head is designed to move on X, Y, and Z axes (side to side, up and down, and front to back). The pieces created by the printer are made, layer by layer, out of melted plastic.

“This type of 3-D printer provides the possibility to produce parts that are very light and with enough strength,” said Zhang, assistant professor of mechanical engineering technology. “The surface of the 3-D printed parts are 100% solid, yet inside they are kind of like a bone structure, a lot of holes. But you can adaptively adjust the density based on the needed strength. The beauty of this type of printing is it can print very complex configurations that are not possible in traditional manufacturing methods.”

In fact, because of the layering, the machine is able to create fully operational parts that aren’t able to be assembled or disassembled. Complicated functions.

The movement of the printer head operates on stepper motors. The control strategy is similar to that used in a CD or DVD laser reader system. Zhang’s 3D printer is still being adjusted to increase the precision of the of the printer head positioning. A graduate student will work with him to improve the printer to a high-precision instrument.

The printer will also be used in a new mechatronics class Zhang is creating.

Read more about additive manufacturing from Forbes.

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