3D printing technology is so close, yet so far, from being ideal, especially for large OEMs. At the moment, a lot of the problems with industrial 3D printing are (still) related to quality control, scale and materials. Outside of those more immediate concerns, what we’d all really love is the ability to additively manufacture multiple materials in a single print. Not just different types of polymers, as already exists, but completely distinct categories of materials. The Fulton Undergraduate Research Initiative (FURI) at Arizona State University (ASU) hopes to bring the technology into the future through the development of a combined metal and plastics process.
As the program is just beginning, there aren’t a lot of details about how ASU intends to do it, except that Assistant Professor Keng Hsu from ASU’s Polytechnic (CTI) campus is looking for researchers for a project to 3D print metal and polymers simultaneously:
This FURI project is part of a research program that seeks to develop a transformational additive manufacturing approach capable of producing metal-polymer heterogeneous materials voxel-by-voxel. Specifically the FURI project will entail defining the required process conditions that will allow the metal constituent material to be manipulated and deposited. This project will involve 80% of experimental work and 20% of theoretical analysis.
What we can tell from the project description is that it will involve 3D printing with voxels, discrete units of material instead of a stream of material (if FDM/FFF is analog, voxel printing is digital). Maltesh Somasekharappa pointed out in his first post on voxel printing that, “[t]hrough prefabrication, voxels can also be pre-loaded with simple active components such as transistors, photovoltaics, microvalves and other sensors and actuators, thereby opening the door to fabrication of complex, functional integrated systems.” Whether or not this is what Prof. Hsu has in mind, I’m not sure.
In fact, if you’re already an ASU student, you may play a key role in how the FURI team will 3D print metal and plastic in a single job. Mechanical Engineering, Engineering, and Material Science students are instructed to apply by emailing Dr. Hsu at [email protected]. The project is also said to involve “micro-manufacturing, 3D printing and soft actuators/robots”, so you may be responsible for bringing us the next walking fish robot of our dreams and nightmares! See MIT’s example below: