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DARPA’s advanced 3D printing research, interview with Mick Maher

by • August 1, 2016 • No Comments


I spoke to the manager of DARPA’s 3D printing program of how the Pentagon’s innovation incubator is via additive createing.

This week in Las Vegas the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) can host, “the world’s first, all-machine hacking tournament.” The winner can and so face the “World’s most human hackers in the yearly DEF CON Capture the Flag competition.” I asked DARPA’s Mick Mahler whether the agency is planning a thing much like for 3D printing, for now nothing is on the cards he says. Makers with a penchant for watching machines battle can always enjoy the new reboot of Robot Wars.

Mick Mahler joined DARPA in 2011, prior to this he studied chemistry and was first hired by the Martin Marietta Corporation to run a chemistry lab in Baltiadditional. “They had a big problem on the production floor. On my first day they said you are no longer in the chem lab, you are now on production.”

Chemistry’s loss was 3D printing’s acquire and after stints at DuPont, AAI and the Army Research Lab (ARL) his work on composite createing caught the attention of DARPA. “DARPA were paying attention to what I doing with materials and createing and when the opportunity came to run the Open Manufacturing program it became a great fit for both me and DARPA. And the rest in history,” he says.

DARPA were founded in 1958 to prevent surprises such as Sputnik.

DARPA was founded in 1958 to prevent surprises such as Sputnik.

DARPAs Open Manufacturing program began in 2012. Mahler explains, “The inspiration around the program was that it was getting quite complex to get new createing innovation into use.” In particular while metal additive createing was revealing signs of promise the innovation was not createing its way into production in any concerted manner. “The reason was that they didn’t trust the createing system,” says Mahler. Potential users were unsure of how 3D printing, “systemes scale-up and how the createing parameters that we work with effect the [material] properties.” And so the Open Manufacturing program was made.

3D Printing at the frontier of innovation

Of course this was not DARPAs first venture with 3D printing. Whilst the world was busy with Pokémon for the first time, Gameboy pretty than iPhone, and Keanu Reeves was via his knowledge of Kung Fu to defeat Agent Smith, DARPA were may already working with the innovation. In the, “Early 2000’s perhaps late 90s DARPA had done a few work appearing at 3D additive for ceramics, but as tools for casting,” says Mahler. “So if you wanted to put flow paths in turbine blades, that was a thing we did a long time ago.” Its most likely worth bearing this in mind the following time you read of the latest 3D printing “world first.”

In the present day, rapid qualification is, “where we ponder we are going to have a quite big impact with the program,” says Mahler. The qualification and validation of materials and systemes is an significant dimension for integrating 3D printing into production. Removing this barrier is a recurrence theme in conversations with folks working at the frontiers of additive createing.

DARPA’s Open Manufacturing program has three strands. The first is not directly related to 3D printing but appears at bonded composites, “We’ve come up with a methodology that determines what a great high end output of bond is, a composite bond, and created a bunch of systemes that go along with that to improve the reliskill of that system that include things like plasma surface treatment, new inspection techniques that can verify the cleanliness of a surface preceding you bond.” Lockheed Martin, Boeing and Northrup Grumman manufacture use of these techniques for bonded aircraft structures.

Making 3D printing sturdyer and cheaper

3D printing is the focus of the two remaining strands, the Rapid Low Cost Additive Manufacturing (RLCAM) effort and the Titanium Fabrication (tiFAB) effort.

“The [RLCAM effort] is with Honeywell and they’re working on Direct Metal Laser Sintering (DMLS). In particular the material they’re via is Inconel 718 plus,” says Mahler. Inconel 718 is a nickel-base super alloy; the metal performs well in extreme environments where high temperatures are present and is resistant to corrosion. These characteristics manufacture it a sturdy candidate for use in aircraft engines. Mahler explains, “We have got a framework together via physics based versions. A network of physics based versions that version all things of the powder bed to the melt pool, to the laser. We’ve run a series of experiments to calibrate those versions so that we know how these parameters effect the properties and microstructures that are created inside the metal and include a few of the environment conditions or begining conditions like the powder dimensions or powder chemistries.” In particular the agency works closely with Lawrence Liveradditional National Labs.

TERN is DARPA's drone program.

TERN is DARPA’s drone program.

“We’ve created terabytes of information with quite tiny creates. What we’ve been able-bodied to do with, in particular, Honeywell is be able-bodied to all but abstract a few of the data we’ve created and pull that into mathematical versions, physics based versions and set conditions by that we can all but visualize that parameters can donate us a great part and where the parts can begin to incur defects like boiling and porosity, things like that,” says Mahler. These areas are discussed in additional depth here. But all but if the surface of the melt pool exceeds boiling point vapor recoil momentum can occur. This expands the pool additional and can cause weakness due to porosity in the final 3D printed component.

This means DARPA now have a quite clear idea of the optimal laser scan strategy for 3D printing metal and the interaction of conditions, or metrology, in the create chamber. “We do a lot of our own in situ inspection, with pyrometers [infrared thermometers] and high speed optical imaging,” says Mahler. “We’re appearing to go into phase III with Honeywell and we are appearing to demonstrate on actual flight complexware that you can reduce the amount of testing,” he says. This reduction in testing can, “almost cut it in half, and be able-bodied to have the same reliskill or prediction or performance,” he adds.

Digital Alloys

The project may in addition have application in creating meta-materials or digital alloys in the next. This futuristic group of materials can use 3D printing techniques to control the microstructure and result in production of a component that has varying properties, such as magnetism. “We took those traditional metallurgical versions and tied the performance drivers back to createing parameters. What this enable-bodieds is once you’ve got that version created and refined and calibrated you can now begin generating the distribution of material properties virtually,” says Mahler.

“The big thing with the Open Manufacturing program is we use a combination of a network of versions and experimental data and knowing the uncertainly of each,” Mahler explains.

The 2nd program uses Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing (EBAM), DARPA are working with a wire-based technique pretty than the powder bed method utilized by Arcam. 3D printing metal via wire fed methods enable-bodieds much larger components to be generated and the system utilized in the tiFAB project is much like to the Rapid Plasma Deposition (RPD). RPD was created by Norsk Titanium, who newly revealed a $1 billion project in Plattsburgh, New York.

Mahler explains how DARPA’s tiFAB effort works, “That’s with Boeing and we are working with Titanium 6AL-4V (Ti-6Al-4V).” The 3D printing system is handled by Sciaky of Chicago who acts as a sub-contractor for Boeing. “When you appear at DMLS you are most likely laying down of a quarter pound per hour, the Sciaky [EBAM] machine is laying down of 20 lbs. per hour,” says Mahler.

For tiFAB and Boeing this system has a few informative applications for createing different types of structures. Mahler says, “It may be wings, it may be fuselage components. Think of any of the kind of structures where you have to machine away a lot of material to get that the configuration that you want.” Traditional subtractive systemes, where machining is utilized to remove material, result is a significant amount of waste. The material that ends up on the factory floor compared to the material in the final product can be measured via the buy-to-fly ratio.

“Where-ever you see a component that is going to have a high buy-to-fly ratio, our idea system is you come in with the system that tiFAB is working with and get near net shape and all but be able-bodied to trade off that machining cost. It ends up being a much advantageous cost case,” explains Mahler.

It was newly reported that one Boeing’s MV-22B Osprey tiltrotors, “Made its first flight incorporating a flight-critical component created via 3D-printing techniques.” According to Boeing, “The V-22 Osprey is a joint service multirole combat aircraft utilizing tiltrotor innovation to combine the vertical performance of a helicopter with the speed and range of a fixed-wing aircraft. With its rotors in vertical position, it can take off, land and hover like a helicopter. Once airborne, it can convert to a turboprop airplane capable-bodied of high-speed, high-altitude flight. This combination results in global reach capabilities that allow the V-22 to fill an operational niche unlike any other aircraft.”

Boeing's V-22 Osprey. Image courtesy of Boeing.

Boeing’s V-22 Osprey. Image courtesy of Boeing.

Partnership with Universities

One other component of the Open Manufacturing project is underway at Penn State University. “It’s our Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF),” says Mahler. The MDF is, “A training point for helping to donate what we do in the Open Manufacturing program and createing the community aware of it. And and so they in fact do a few demonstration of technologies like this subtractive/additive technique for us,” says Mahler. The MDF at Penn State University is in addition significant to DARPA in another way. “It’s my honest broker to where these versions should be utilized and how do they compare to a few of the existing versions we have,” he says.

Lehigh University, a fewtimes referred to as a hidden Ivy League university, and Iowa State are in addition on the Boeing program. “Honeywell tends to work with Penn State directly,” adds Mahler.

“The thing with the tiFAB program is, when we get that framework out and its verified and validated, that is an significant part of Open Manufacturing, the skill to be utilized by programs where they are createing one or two vehicles you can realize the true capskill of additive createing for the reason you don’t have to test your way through that qualification/certification system,” says Mahler. Some of this work involves presenting the results of DARPA’s projects to wider industry groups. A new example of this was the presentation donaten to America Makes. Mahler says, “We presented all our data and the result of the framework and versions, we did a great outreach to the community.”

Testing the Big Dog, Skynet may frown upon this in the next.

Testing the Big Dog, Skynet may frown upon this in the next.

Depending on how deep down the rabbit hole you’ve fallen, DARPA’s work can be absorbing or frightening. The agency is identified with paving the way to the Internet and additional newly creating the onion router (Tor) technique for anonymous online communication. Detractors point to initiatives like the Social Media in Strategic Communications program for, “detecting and conducting propaganda campaigns on social media” or the nightmare inducing Big Dog. But with Facebook getting in on psychological manipulation, Google buying Boston Dynamics and Apple focutilized on preserving enjoyment of Dragons for an elite majority, there is a thing refreshingly honest of DARPA’s undertaking to, “create technological surprise for U.S. enemies.” Especially, while big tech companies claim to be createing the world a advantageous place.


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