In 2012, the federal government launched America Makes, an additive manufacturing research center, in the ailing city of Youngstown, transforming the Mahoning Valley into a flagship city for advanced manufacturing. Youngstown State University will add to this momentous trend with the creation of the Center for Innovation in Additive Manufacturing.
YSU President Randy Dunn said the center will give students, industry leaders and professors alike access to training and research opportunities in additive technology.
“[We] have been looking for a way, for sometime, to take some space and really create an area with some of these new 3-D printers where we could center our research [and] opportunities for students who are working at additive manufacturing,” Dunn said. “This provided us the opportunity to do it. The fact that it also provides a one stop shop for our industry partners, for the folks at America Makes, and others, I think is also very beneficial.”
Additive manufacturing, also known as 3-D printing, is a trailblazing manufacturing technique that prints three dimensional objects based off of digitally created models. Additive manufacturing allows users to generate manufacturing parts, molds, artwork, trinkets, and even artificial organs quickly and precisely.
The center opened at a press conference on January 28 and houses two state-of-the-art 3-D printers, the M-Flex and the X1-Lab. The printers were purchased from ExOne with donations by Ohio’s Third Frontier and university funds.
Martin Abraham, dean of the College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics at YSU, said the M-Flex in particular gives YSU these advanced capabilities in 3D printing and opens up new connections with surrounding manufacturers.
“[M-Flex] has the build volume of roughly a cubic foot. … What makes this equipment unique, that most other people won’t have, is this machine can print metals,” Abraham said. “One of the things that we are doing — and we just received funding from America Makes to do — is to make [foundry] molds for the casting industry. … When you make the engine block of a car, it is made out of a mold.
You pour the metal in, freezes basically, hardens in place, then you remove the mold, and the engine block is made. You can make that mold from a 3D printer.”
Abraham said the center makes YSU the second university in the world with additive equipment of this nature. YSU’s exceptional technology will give undergraduate, graduate and doctoral students a leg up in the job market.
“My students are doing the development; they are doing the design; they are learning the skills; they are learning the technology. Companies are going to hire the people who already have the knowledge. My people are more knowledgeable than anybody else in the world,” Abraham said.
Brett Conner and Guha Manogharan will oversee the center — both are professors of mechanical and industrial engineering who have had extensive experience with additive manufacturing.
“I was brought on to start up research and teaching in the area of 3D printing, also known as additive manufacturing … to enable us to have key capabilities in this area,” Conner said. “The center is the outgrowth of those efforts. What we see here, with the printers that we just got, is really just the start. We are going to be acquiring additional equipment over time to be able to help us do teaching and research in this field.”
The center’s benefits will not end at STEM, however, and there are plans to expand usage of the center to other colleges as well. Abraham said that additive tech can be used to print molds and pieces designed by artists, fusing together the technical prowess of engineers and the aesthetic knowledge of artists.
“The art students have designed the object that they want to mold; we have done that design on the computer, printed it with the 3D printer, and then filled the mold to create the artistic object. We have done that in the past, and we can do a lot more of it now because we have more sophisticated capabilities and equipment today.” Abraham said. “We have created a new course … co-taught between an engineering professor and an art professor where we will work with students to teach them how to do that, how to do the engineering.”
Abraham went on to say that the center is just the budding of YSU’s enduring commitment to additive manufacturing. Professors and students have already begun extended projects, and YSU has begun brainstorming initiatives with America Makes, the Youngstown Business Incubator, and other valley leaders.
“This is the start of what we expect to be a very, very substantial commitment to this technology,” Abraham said.