MOHAWK IS WHERE MANUFACTURERS COME TO LEARN ABOUT 3D PRINTING
Mohawk College is an established leader in 3D printing, a technology on the verge of disrupting advanced manufacturing.
The Additive Manufacturing Innovation Centre (AMIC) was home to the first metal 3D printer at any postsecondary institution in Canada and has carried out applied research alongside companies of all sizes.
“We have a mandate to explore additive manufacturing and help industry partners explore the technology in a low-risk, low-cost way,” said Jeff McIsaac, General Manager of AMIC. “Partners typically come with a specific challenge and want to find out if 3D printing is the answer.”
As costs for printers and materials continue to fall, the technology is becoming an ever-more viable option for manufacturers. “We are in the very, very early stages. There are processes we haven’t even opened up. 3D printing is changing everything about what we are thinking.”
The technology is driving new design approaches that replicate shapes found in nature, says McIsaac, such as curved holes, porous interiors or lattice structures, that were never possible with traditional manufacturing.
“We can print a tree but we cannot machine a tree. Nature has developed all kinds of shapes that are high strength and light weight. 3D printing allows the production of anything a designer can dream up.”
Part of AMIC’s mandate as an applied research lab is to take the knowledge gained with industry partners and work with faculty to feed that back into the curriculum.
AMIC is staffed with part-time and full-time student employees through co-ops and internships. It also takes volunteers, can be accessed for capstone projects, and is available to student entrepreneurs through SURGE.
“Students who learn in our lab leave with a very unique skill set. They have access to technology other schools haven’t had and work closely with industry partners. They are well positioned for industry in Canada.”
LEARNING FROM PAST EXPERIENCE
Faculty and students at Mohawk are exploring how old techniques developed by foundries can be used to improve products made through 3D printing
Developing new materials for additive manufacturing means using traditional techniques to create stronger, lighter-weight parts, says Elizabeth Martin, a professor of mechanical engineering technology. That will make 3D printing viable for mainstream manufacturing.
“We are borrowing from a lot of methods used in foundries for 50 years but applying them in new ways,” said Martin, who has a PhD in polymer mechanics. “3D printing has completely changed the way we look at materials.”
A core area of specialization for Mohawk’s Additive Manufacturing Innovation Centre (AMIC) is materials development, said General Manager Jeff McIsaac. “The catalogue of materials in metal 3D printing is limited. There are only a handful available for commercial use, so there is a lot of focus on the advancement of new alloys.”
Martin says thermal treatment of powdered metals or polymers greatly improves the strength when the material is deposited in layers. Sintering or in-situ heating post-printing also results in better bonding between layers.
“If you think of a structure being printed one layer at a time as being like building blocks, the layers are attached but there is a crack between the layers. It’s important to encourage the layers to attach together in a stronger way so the overall structure is stronger.”
Materials development is key to realizing all the possibilities and benefits that 3D printing offers, says Martin.
“The more time we spend learning about the building up of layers, the better we are getting at developing strong materials. All foundry science relies on strength properties, and we can build that into 3D printing.
Mohawk students have many opportunities to learn and apply the technology, says Martin. The college’s strong design curriculum in the manufacturing program is backed up by foundry techniques and opportunities to volunteer, study and work in the AMIC.