GE selects Auburn University for additive manufacturing program

Lab technician Mike Crumpler, left, and materials engineering professor Tony Overfelt examine metal components in the lab at Auburn University's Center for Industrialized Additive Manufacturing. Overfelt is the center's director. (Auburn University)

A leader in additive manufacturing technologies, GE, has selected Auburn University as one of just eight universities from around the world to participate in a groundbreaking program focusing on 3-D printing research and education initiatives.

Auburn, which has been strategically expanding its activities in additive manufacturing, will receive a state-of-the-art Concept Laser MLAB 100R metal printer as part of the GE Additive Education Center. The printer is valued at $250,000.

Manufacturers are increasingly using additive manufacturing to produce intricate metal components with complex geometries. (Contributed)

“Auburn Engineering is a national leader in industrialized additive manufacturing,” said Christopher B. Roberts, dean of Auburn’s Samuel Ginn College of Engineering. “Companies such as GE have asked for our help in graduating engineers who are well versed in additive manufacturing and prepared to lead American industry into the future.”

A GE advisory group composed of engineers and additive manufacturing specialists chose Auburn out of more than 250 applicants because of its established additive manufacturing curriculum and extensive research initiatives within the engineering school.

GE’s Additive Education Program was created to support colleges and universities such as Auburn that are educating students in additive manufacturing technologies. Through the program, GE is investing $8 million over five years to provide up to 50 metal additive machines to higher education institutions around the world.

“Additive manufacturing and 3-D printing is revolutionizing the way we think about designing and manufacturing products,” said Mohammad Ehteshami, vice president of GE Additive. “We want a pipeline of engineering talent that have additive in their DNA. This education program is our way of supporting that goal.”

Leadership position

Greg Canfield, secretary of the Alabama Department of Commerce, said Auburn’s concentration on additive manufacturing is positioning its engineering school as a leader in the game-changing technology.

GE Aviation produces fuel nozzles using additive manufacturing at a plant in Auburn. (Contributed)

“Additive manufacturing represents a significant breakthrough that will reshape how manufacturers produce all kinds of products, and it’s critical that Alabama’s workforce is prepared for this technology,” Canfield said.

“The partnership between GE and Auburn University will help ensure that we’re ready for future advances,” he added.

GE already has a strong presence in Auburn. Its GE Aviation unit is using additive manufacturing to mass produce fuel nozzle injectors at a plant in the city’s Technology Park West. The company says the nozzle is the first complex jet engine component produced with 3-D printing technology.

Advancing additive

Roberts said Auburn has moved to greatly expand its programs in additive manufacturing.

An artist’s rendering shows the renovated Gavin Engineering Research Laboratory. When it opens later this year, the laboratory will feature dedicated space for Auburn University’s additive manufacturing research. (Contributed)

“We responded by developing new curricula so students learn how to design for additive manufacturing systems,” he said. ‘We are also investing millions of dollars in the latest 3-D printing technology and hiring world-class faculty to teach our students.

“This award further strengthens our relationship with GE, and we look forward to even greater collaboration with them in our education and research programs.”

Auburn Engineering faculty members are also researching other ways to employ additive technology, such as producing next-generation rocket engines for space flights to Mars or developing intricate medical implants for use during surgery.

In addition, Auburn has created a new Center for Industrialized Additive Manufacturing, directed by materials engineering professor Tony Overfelt, and hired internationally known faculty working in this growing field of research.

The university’s newly renovated Gavin Engineering Research Laboratory opens later this year and will feature dedicated space for Auburn’s additive manufacturing research, including upgraded and expanded testing equipment.

In addition, Auburn has signed a Space Act Agreement with NASA to jointly explore and advance the applications of 3-D printing technologies.

How it works

Additive manufacturing of metal parts is typically conducted using a laser or an electron beam to heat input materials during the printing process. (GE Additive)

Additive manufacturing involves fabricating parts layer-by-layer from metals, plastics or other materials based on a 3-D computer-aided design model. Because parts are made by building upon each layer, additive technology reduces waste in the manufacturing process, improves production speed and can create parts that are lighter and more durable than those made using traditional manufacturing methods.

With the ability to create highly complex parts in a fraction of the time, additive technology is revolutionizing the manufacturing industry and creating new opportunities for engineers to explore.

GE Aviation says the fuel nozzle produced at its Auburn plant is 25 percent lighter and five times more durable than conventional models that took longer to produce.

This story originally appeared on the Alabama Department of Commerce’s Made in Alabama website.

Republished with permission of Alabama NewsCenter.