The College of Engineering and the US Department of Energy’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) at Oak Ridge National Laboratory have embarked on a new initiative in additive manufacturing for the aerospace industry.
Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Jeff Haynes, Air Force Research Laboratory engineer John Kleek, UT’s Stacey Patterson and Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Alan Liby celebrate the opening of a high-end laser used in additive manufacturing at the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility.
Part of a contractual arrangement with Aerojet Rocketdyne and the Air Force Research Laboratory, the program centers around the acquisition of three high-end laser machines: two Concept Laser X Line systems—one of which is installed at MDF and the other at Aerojet Rocketdyne’s Los Angeles–based facility—and one EOS M400, located at Atlantic Precision’s Florida location. The program includes the backing of the Advanced Manufacturing Office of the Department of Energy.
Each machine uses a version of additive manufacturing known as laser powder bed fusion to convert metal powder into liquid rocket engine (LRE) components.
Having such an advanced piece of equipment will allow the continued growth of UT’s expertise in that focus, said Professor Suresh Babu, the UT-ORNL Governor’s Chair in Advanced Manufacturing.
“This particular technology is going to allow us to open up new opportunities in the design and manufacturing of aluminum alloy components for LREs,” said Babu. “The importance of having access to such a cutting-edge machine can’t be overstated.”
The new initiative will have an impact on the College of Engineering that goes beyond equipment.
“In addition to having access to state-of-the-art technology, our students will be working together with scientists and engineers from these well-respected organizations,” said Wayne Davis, dean of the college. “That is a huge positive for our educational mission.”
For ORNL, it’s the latest step in an increasing expertise in advanced manufacturing.
“This aligns with our mission to provide leadership in the application of science and technology, to expand additive manufacturing technology, and to transfer that technology to a wide range of industries,” said Craig Blue, director of the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility at ORNL.
Aerojet Rocketdyne has been working on additive manufacturing research for the past decade. The new arrangement and additional investment allow them to work with UT to develop and research new metal capabilities, a key priority for the company.
“These systems are highly complex and massive, in contrast to the more common smaller machines used in the past,” said Jeff Haynes, program manager for Aerojet Rocketdyne’s additive manufacturing efforts. “With these new platforms and alloy types, we can expand almost six times in volume from the parts we were making before.”
Aerojet Rocketdyne is one of the leading manufacturers of rocket propulsion systems in the world.
This project with UT and Atlantic Precision came about through the Defense Production Act Title III program, which was created to assure “affordable and commercially viable production capabilities and capacities for items essential for national defense.”
Aerojet Rocketdyne’s focus is on developing lower-cost engines, with the involvement of UT and ORNL providing materials and manufacturing expertise to the program.
“While the primary goal is to develop liquid rocket engine parts, the expanded goals of the program will be to demonstrate other applications to see how much potential these machines will have for the US industrial base,” said Haynes. “Since we can now build large parts in rapid speed and our production needs are relatively low volume, these machines will have some excess capacity to help build new industrial base applications.”
Taylor Eighmy, UT’s vice chancellor for research and engagement, said the initiative enhances the university’s rapidly growing national role in advanced manufacturing.
“This is just the most recent example of the mutually beneficial relationships we are building across national agencies and industries here at the University of Tennessee,” said Eighmy. “Recent successes such as this, IACMI (the Institute for Advanced Composites Manufacturing Innovation), joining Ohio State’s Ma²JIC (Manufacturing and Materials Joining Innovation Center) team, and others have helped propel us to the forefront of advanced manufacturing in the US with a handful of other institutions.”