Machine at Marshall University uses steel, titanium to craft various parts
By JOSEPHINE E. MENDEZ
daily mail staff
CHARLESTON, W.Va. — Students and community members have the opportunity to bring their ideas to life with the addition of the advanced 3-D metal printer to the Robert C. Byrd Academic and Technology Center at Marshall University’s South Charleston campus.
After taking several months to install, the 3-D metal printer is up and running and has already been used to create products for Toyota, the U.S. Navy and ATK, an aerospace, defense and commercial products company.
One unique feature the Robert C. Byrd Institute offers is the chance for local business owners to use this machine to create products of their own.
“There are not many machines like this in the country and most are owned by private companies or large corporations and are not available for the public to use.” Chris Figgatt, production engineer at the institute, said. “But all of our equipment is available to any company, individual, inventor or entrepreneur. They can run it like it’s their own.”
With the added bonus of being on a college campus surrounded by eager young minds, Figgatt said they are in the development stages of creating an additive manufacturing degree program, which will be offered in conjunction with Mountwest Community and Technical College.
“This is the forefront of manufacturing,” Figgatt said. “It is the latest and most up-to-date technology in manufacturing today. By having this technology available to students and area businesses it will give them a large benefit when competing with other manufacturers.
“Hopefully these machines will benefit the whole state of West Virginia and the surrounding states”
The printer is able to create products from eight different metals including stainless steel, aluminum, maraging steel (an ultra-high-strength alloy), cobalt chrome, and titanium. Before anything can be created, a computer aided design is processed through the machine software. The file is then sent to the 3-D printer to begin the building process. Lasers are used to melt a fine metal powder, which then grows the product layer by layer.
The laser speeds up production time and allows the user to create complex geometries such as freeforms, deep slots and conformal cooling channels, which follow the contours of an object to promote uniform temperatures within.
To demonstrate the versatility of the 3-D metal printer, Figgatt printed a coin with Sen. Joe Manchin’s face on the front in honor of a scheduled Friday visit for the printer’s unveiling.
“Everything with 3-D printing is slow but the nice thing with it is that a person does not need to look after the printer while it’s working.” Figgatt said. “Once you load your file into it and hit the start button you’re done. You can go home and come back the next day to a finished product.”
Along with capability to create intricate designs, the 3-D metal printer allows manufacturers to easily identify problems in the early stages of a product’s creation. This helps cut costs and reduces the amount of wasted material.
The purchase of the new $750,000 3-D metal printer was made possible through a partnership with the U.S. Navy, ATK, RCBI and Marshall University.