In the near absence of academic programs to teach undergraduate engineering students additive manufacturing, a California-based startup has stepped in to help fill the void through internships.
Morf3D (El Segundo, CA), suppliers of metal parts-based aerospace hardware, has trained close to 20 engineering students from nearby universities since the business started in 2014, said Melissa Orme, chief technology officer. Some of those interns have been hired by the company.
“We’re a small business, we only have 12 employees,” Orme said. “At this point, four of the 12 started as college interns.” One of the four is Paul Gagorik, lead designer at Morf3D and member of the Loyola Marymount Class of ’17 with a BS in mechanical engineering. His first exposure to 3D printing was during sophomore year in an introduction to engineering lab where students turned out plastic parts.
“It opened my eyes to where the technology is going,” Gagorik said. In the lab, he became familiar with part supports, print parameters, surface finish, supported file formats and the AM layer-by-layer process.
Gagorik thought his career path would be in the automotive industry but responded to an ad for the Morf3D internship on his university’s online jobs board. He interned there during his entire senior year. It was a life-changing move, because near the end of his internship Morf3D offered him a job. “Definitely the metal printing was a step up in terms of technicality [compared to plastics],” Gagorik said. “Plus, [I could] see the entire process from start to finish.”
That’s exactly the way Orme—whose pioneering work in metal AM and net-form manufacturing of metal components led to patents, journal articles and awards—has structured the internships. After starting Morf3D’s interns doing one project for their internship, she realized that teaching students about AM would be more useful.
So, every intern starts out by learning how to remove supports. Their training also includes safety, material sourcing, principles of design and slicing, setting up builds, cleaning out machines, in-process monitoring, and quality assurance.
AM with metals is more complex than with plastics, according to Orme. “Failures in metal printing are primarily due to poor design of support structures and heat transfer issues in the metal causing thermal distortion due to internal stresses,” she said.
Making the part is just the beginning: students learn how to send it out for heat treating, possible machining and anodizing. They do inspection and fill out paperwork. Each intern is certified before working on customer-specific projects.
“By the end, they’ve seen every aspect of making a part,” Orme said. “They can determine their strong points.”
The interns are also mentored by Ivan Madera, Morf3D’s CEO, whose background is in management consulting and business transformation. At the end of a workday, Madera may gather interns and staff around a whiteboard to talk about an issue related to running a business.
The program allows Orme to continue working with students, something she did during her 12 years as a tenured engineering professor at the University of California, Irvine.
“I try to bring that mentality into the workplace,” she said. “You learn a lot more in the lab or on the job than in the classroom. Also, in AM there is very limited curricula in the university if any at all.”
That may be changing, with programs such as the UL Additive Manufacturing Competency Center at the University of Louisville, and new graduate programs at the University of Maryland, University of Texas at El Paso and Penn State. For some, though, the internship at Morf3D offers a clear path forward to metals AM.