Dave Follette is the head of the ADDFab (Advanced Digital Design and Fabrication Core Facility) facility at UMass Amherst.
The additive manufacturing industry has changed dramatically in the last decade, and so has additive in education. Now, students, including my own kids are exposed to 3D printing as early as elementary school. However, most early educational opportunities connect students with consumer-grade printers. My goal is to share industrial level manufacturing capabilities of 3D printing with students so they can learn how to apply it in the real world and understand the commercial applications of additive.
More and more companies are using additive for production, and as the rest of the world begins to understand 3D printers aren’t just for toys, we’ve worked on building a facility that gives students hands-on experience with printers that produce high-quality, industrial grade parts.
I run the Advanced Digital Design and Fabrication Core Facility (ADDFab) in the Life Science Labs at UMass Amherst. ADDFab is a full digital design and additive fabrication lab with multiple printers and printer technologies.
Most of the printers at ADDFab are operated by undergraduate student staff, or graduate students doing research. The printers were all purchased with a grant from the commonwealth of Massachusetts’ Life Sciences Council (MLSC). We’re not tied to any specific printer manufacturer and we work with a wide variety of companies and organizations without conflict of interest, to further additive education and technology.
Given the wide-ranging potential that comes with a laboratory of high-end 3D printers, we try to focus our efforts in three main areas:
Design and Print Great Parts
Our most common service is to design and print industrial grade parts. We use a variety of 3D printing materials, including nylon-12, stainless steels, fiber reinforced polymers, and UV-cured blended materials. With such a wide variety of options, we can meet almost every additive manufacturing need on campus and in the local area.
Our printer lineup includes the Markforged Onyx One and Mark Two. It was eye opening to me when I joined the lab to use five different software interfaces to work with each of the printers. Markforged’s web-based Eiger is by far my favorite. The other thing I really like about our Markforged printers is that they “warm up” and start printing really quickly. Other printers have complicated setup procedures, or hours to warm up heads, or build volumes, or trays. This makes it an excellent printer for quick prototyping. Because it’s also easy to operate, I’m comfortable with a wide range of students using the Markforged printers on their own— so if they want to work on a project at two in the morning, they can prototype a part in hours and not need to wait for me.
Research in Additive Manufacturing
The second focus area at ADDFab is basic research in additive manufacturing, which generally falls into two categories. The first focuses on the materials, generally metals, to determine what new alloys might work best for 3D printing. Traditional metal alloys were optimized for other manufacturing processes, so what if you were to optimize an alloy for additive manufacturing processes?
The second research area involves printing novel geometries. Lattices are a major focus in this research and there are so many different concepts being considered. Our contribution is to help companies understand how to use the available printer technology to get the geometry that they want. This work is both a science and an art and usually involves developing some tricks to get the perfect print.
The third major focus of ADDFab is teaching. We support undergraduate and graduate classes on additive manufacturing and show students how to use these machines. As an engineer myself, I think it’s essential to understand the manufacturing process when you are designing parts, and I want to help students understand the capabilities (and limitations) of commercial additive manufacturing tools.
We also lead hands-on workshops for an industry audience, providing hands-on experience in using these high-end printers. We often have students help extensively with portions of the classes, providing opportunities to make connections with members of the industry. A large fraction of ADDFab alumni have leveraged their experience and gone on to work in the additive industry.
Recent ADDFab Projects
ADDFab’s support of local companies continued during the COVID-19 pandemic. Recently, we worked with the Open Source Respirator project to develop a respirator that can be mass produced and reused to help with the COVID-19 pandemic. We helped prototype mold cavities, face models, and various components for these respirators. In this project, student staff ran all of the printers and delivered the 3D printed parts.
On the academic side, we were recently tasked with creating non-electronic sensors for a computer science research project. As the stay-at-home orders went into effect, I was able to take home a Markforged Onyx One and a Makerbot to reduce my time on campus. The combination of the two worked great. The Markforged Onyx material was excellent, but not springy enough for the hairsprings that we needed, where the PLA was just the right stiffness. I preferred the Markforged for the general quality and finish of the parts, but could not have completed the project without both printers.
The Future of ADDFab
I am always surprised, given how little student recruiting that I have to do, at how many students find me on their own and want to join the lab. They are all really interested in additive, want to be involved, and they know that additive is the future of manufacturing. Our goal is to show the students, the campus, and the community the amazing things that you can do with 3D printing. Of course, we also really enjoy delivering great parts for people, advancing research, and helping students find great opportunities in the additive industry.