The Air Force Institute of Technology (AFIT) has been using 3D printing techniques for over three decades. AFIT has specifically leveraged the technology to build prototype parts. Last month, the M2 was added to the institute’s Graduate School of Engineering and Management.
An investment of nearly $1 million, AFIT will now be able to digitally fabricate aerospace metal components with dimensions up to 10 inches x 10 inches x 10 inches. With the M2 machine, AFIT’s research will consider inconnel, titanium and aluminium, three of Aerospace’s primary materials, for flight-critical air and space applications. The findings of this research will be fed back to the Air Force.
Ryan O’Hara, assistant professor at the Graduate School of Engineering and Management, and AFIT’s lead for additive manufacturing, explained the M2 was chosen to limit user exposure to potentially harmful substances. The M2 not only provides an automated process conducted in isolation, meaning a safer working environment, but will also improve the Institute’s research, according to O’Hara.
“Ultimately, this is a capability that enhances the defence focussed graduate research that we are already doing, whether that is to produce prototypes faster or get someone into the lab for practical experimentation,” O’Hara said. “Those are all things we’ve traditionally done in polymers to facilitate research and technology applications, and now we’re applying these techniques with metal.
Skywrighter photos/ Amy Rollins
Concept Laser AFIT
Ryan O' Hara presenting the M2 to Dr Todd Stewart, AFIT director and chancellor.
“In a recent project, we were able to decrease weight by 10 to 20% while increasing stiffness by 20 to 30%. The big advantage there is we can design lighter and stiffer structures that can respond to aerospace environments while delivering greater capabilities.”
AFIT has a number of research areas which explore the advantages of additive manufacturing, specifically in relation to lattice structures. Prior to the arrival of the M2, production of these structures was outsourced. Here, adoption of the M2 will provide a more convenient solution for the institute. While AFIT believes its enhanced research may provide findings that can benefit the aerospace sector as a whole.
“This is a significant investment for us,” said Dr Todd Stewart, AFIT director and chancellor. “We’re staying on top of emerging and obviously important technology. I’m excited about that. I understand that this offers somewhat unique capabilities for our Air Force and for our students and faculty.”
Benjamin Doane, a research assistant at the Center for Space Research and Assurance at AFIT added: “There is so much we can do. It’s going to be exciting when we start getting results and being able to publish papers on novel science that no one else has ever done. The possibilities are endless. We can now start printing parts that we can test and compile their data, it is going to be pretty cool.”