Additive manufacturing, also known as 3-D printing, continues evolving and changing.
Visitors toured the 3-D printing labs at Lehigh University in Bethlehem on Thursday afternoon as part of the Advancing Technology for Business Growth event.
Guests heard some of the latest developments and got the opportunity to see how additive manufacturing equipment works and the local research capabilities available.
Last year, Lehigh’s Advancing Technology for Business Growth event focused on the Biotech and Biomedical Engineering program at the university’s Mountaintop Campus. Each year, the event is presented by Lehigh Emerging Technologies Network and Lehigh’s Center for Advanced Materials and Nanotechnology. The event, which marked its 11th year, began with a roster of speakers in the morning.
Participants discussed the use of metals, biomaterials and other emerging applications and explored regional business resources, technologies and applications as well as the challenges for using additive manufacturing.
At Wilbur Powerhouse at Lehigh’s main campus, guests saw some of the equipment in action in a tour led by Brian Slocum, director of Lehigh’s Additive Manufacturing Lab.
Any student on campus can use the equipment in the lab to create objects and parts and test prototypes to practice the process.
“What we are pushing is PLA printers,” Slocum said. “It prints pretty robustly. We are using it for testing new filaments.”
PLA is polylactic acid, a biodegradable plastic.
“It really is the entry level; it allows us to get our students to capture a rough geometry of things,” Slocum said.
Among its more than 20 machines, the lab has two commercial grade Stratasys FDM (fused deposition modeling) machines, a Renishaw metal printer and an ExOne printer used for developing concrete binders.
The Renishaw machine is a laser melting system, and the lab is running stainless steel through the machine, Slocum said.
“We are most interested in doing powder development,” he said.
The university works with regional manufacturers who supply the lab with materials, and metal powders for the Renishaw machine, so that students can make materials that have never been developed before by using the equipment.
Slocum said the two companies that he can disclose are Global Tungsten & Powders of Towanda, Bradford County, and Carpenter Technology Corp. of Wyomissing.
The lab has a staff of about 30 undergraduates who pull apart the machines and perform daily maintenance on the equipment, Slocum added.
One of the biggest trends that Slocum sees in the field of 3-D printing is Hewlett-Packard’s recent launch of multijet fusion technology.
“It gives you injection mold-strength parts,” Slocum said. “If they start to scale up that technology, the tooling costs go away.”
The tooling costs for making parts with 3-D printing are huge, according to Slocum.
“HP has the ability to change that dynamic,” Slocum said. “That cost goes away so you can just start printing the product.”
Proto-CAM, a manufacturer in Upper Macungie Township, received the first HP multijet fusion machine on the East Coast, Slocum said.
Guests on the tour also got the chance to see the additive manufacturing equipment in Lehigh’s Whitaker Lab across the street.