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Ohio State researchers earn $500,000 NASA grant to advance additive manufacturing

Wei Zhang additive manufacturingMaterials Science and Engineering Associate Professor Wei Zhang works with a 3D printer as part of his research to advance additive manufacturing.

Additive manufacturing research at The Ohio State University is among 13 university-led proposals to receive an Early Stage Innovations (ESI) grant from NASA’s Space Technology Research Grants Program. ESI grants promote innovative, early-stage technologies that address high priority needs of America’s space program.

Proposals selected for ESI grants address unique, disruptive or transformational technologies in a variety of areas. Ohio State’s three-year project, “Certification of Additive Manufacturing Processing Parameters through Physics-based Predictive Simulation of Process-Defects-Microstructure,” received $500,000. The principal investigator is College of Engineering Associate Professor Wei Zhang and co-PIs are Professors Yunzhi Wang and Antonio Ramirez, all of the Department of Materials Science and Engineering.

Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, is “the next generation of manufacturing for high-value applications,” said Zhang. More frugal than traditional manufacturing which uses costly materials and machinery to create parts, additive manufacturing uses layered, melted powders or wires to create complex structures, particularly those with internal channels for cooling and other purposes. However, the process isn’t without its challenges, and that’s where the Ohio State team’s research comes into play.

“One of the challenges with additive manufacturing is that you may have defects inside a part causing it to fail prematurely. And these are very high-valued parts, so failure is going to be very expensive,” Zhang explained. “The second challenge is that in order for the material to do what it is designed to do, you need to have not only the required external shape and dimension but also the right internal structure, called microstructure, meaning the right DNA for the material. Thus we have to understand how the internal structure evolves during the additive manufacturing process.”

The team’s research will focus on developing a physics-based modeling framework to help predict the formation of defects and also the evolution of the microstructure—both of which are critical in order to obtain final certification and qualification for the parts.

To aid in the detection of defects, Ohio State is collaborating with the Brazilian Nanotechnology National Laboratory. They will utilize the lab’s high resolution X-ray CT machine, allowing them to construct a 3D map of the material to unveil how the internal defects are distributed.

According to NASA, the goal of the Space Technology Research Grants program is to accelerate the development of space technologies in their earliest stages to enable future systems capabilities and missions for NASA, other government agencies and the commercial space sector. The program is funded by NASA’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, which is responsible for developing the cross-cutting, pioneering, new technologies and capabilities needed by the agency to achieve its current and future missions.

"NASA’s Early Stage Innovations grants provide U.S. universities the opportunity to conduct research and technology development to advance NASA’s scientific discovery and exploration goals," said Steve Jurczyk, associate administrator for NASA's Space Technology Mission Directorate in Washington, in a press release. “Partnering with academia in advancing these critical areas of research ensures we are engaging the best and brightest minds in enabling the agency’s future robotic and human space flight missions.”