3D printing the future of education, industry, and defense
Virginia Tech has received a U.S. Department of Defense grant that will help buy a computerized solid state metals printing machine that will be housed in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.
Virginia Tech has received a 2023 Defense University Research Instrumentation Program (DURIP) grant to purchase cutting-edge 3D metal printing technology to boost education and research in advanced manufacturing and new materials development.
The U.S. Department of Defense award will fund up to $800,000 for the purchase of a computerized additive friction stir deposition (AFSD) machine that will be housed in the Department of Materials Science and Engineering and be made available to interested researchers from across the university — and beyond.
“We are grateful to the Department of Defense for this award, which will enable Virginia Tech to be at the forefront of advanced manufacturing science and technology. This new system will significantly boost our ability to conduct unprecedented research and meet the needs of interested industrial partners,” said Suneel Kodambaka, materials science and engineering department head. “This award is proof that our academic and research focus in these areas will not only prepare our students for the careers of the future, but will help spur American innovation in space travel, national defense, health care, and industry.”
Virginia Tech was one of 77 universities to receive a total of $59 million for the purchase of critical research equipment funded this cycle through the federal program.
“DURIP awards provide essential research infrastructure to enable the pursuit of new knowledge. They help maintain the cutting-edge capabilities of our institutes of higher education,” said Bindu Nair, director of the Basic Research Office in the Office of the Undersecretary of Defense for Research and Engineering. “These awards will sustain the scientific excellence of our universities, train the next generation STEM workforce, and facilitate scientific advances that will build a resilient defense ecosystem.”
The highly competitive DURIP award is administered jointly by the Air Force Office of Scientific Research, the Army Research Office, and the Office of Naval Research through a merit competition. It is given to university investigators conducting foundational science and engineering research relevant to national defense.
Hang Yu, associate professor of materials science and engineering in the College of Engineering, is the primary investigator on the award and a rising star in defense- and AFSD-related research. He recently published the first textbook on the technology and has partnered with Christiansburg-based Meld Manufacturing, which has patented a process used extensively by industry and the military.
“This equipment is going to help Virginia Tech to be at the forefront of solid state metal additive manufacturing research,” Yu said. “This is transdisciplinary research in nature. You have materials people; you have mechanical people, you have industrial systems people, and you have data science people. And it's not just research — it's also about education and workforce development.”
A range of co-primary investigators from several engineering disciplines are named in the award, including Yu’s colleagues in materials science, Alex Aning and Wenjun Cai. Others include Chris Williams in mechanical engineering, James Kong and Xiaowei Yue from industrial and systems engineering, Yao Fu in aerospace and ocean engineering, and Dave Higdon from statistics.
Yu’s lab focuses primarily on AFSD, which has drawn great attention recently from the aerospace and defense sectors because of its scalability and the strength of its products. This 3D-printing process can assemble components using metals, such as high-strength aluminum and titanium, without melting them. By building up layers of the materials, AFSD can manufacture components in a range of sizes and shapes that have better strength and fewer defects than components printed using other processes.
This year, Yu won the prestigious Young Faculty Award from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency for his work in this area. The agency will invest up to $1 million over the next three years to devise and test autonomous metals manufacturing and repair processes for austere environments like space. The transdisciplinary research team includes students from materials science and electrical engineering and will use data analytics and artificial intelligence.