One of the challenging aspects of additive manufacturing (AM) technology adoption is how to conceptualize and create part designs that are optimized for function and manufacturability. As additive manufacturing processes can create parts with increased complexity, functionality and integration, our engineering design thought process and software tools have not fully evolved to take advantage of these potentials.
These challenges became apparent in a collaborative project where a team tried to bring to life an innovative optic circuit. The team included quantum physics researchers from the Quantum Physics Laboratory (QPL), Institute for Quantum Computing (IQC), University of Waterloo; and AM researchers from the Multi-Scale Additive Manufacturing Laboratory (MSAM), Mechanical and Mechatronics Engineering, University of Waterloo. The problem was complex, with optical mounts requiring a custom 3D-mechanical arrangement, utilization of a low coefficient of thermal expansion material, mass reduction, adjustability and tight alignment tolerances. We decided that metal additive manufacturing was the only viable solution and embarked on this path, not because it was easy, but because it challenged the status quo of what can be done in the field of laser interferometry and additive manufacturing alike.
To add to the challenge, the entire program was orchestrated from concept to print in less than six months, without our team members ever being in the same room. Orchestrating designs, coordinating manufacturing plans, troubleshooting failed builds and iterating through to success is a true story of why digital manufacturing is so powerful in terms of pooling talent virtually to create parts physically.
Presented here are reflections on our effort, with an optimistic anticipation of our final product being printed successfully. I hope the reflections on design for additive manufacturing will inspire others to learn from our failed but exciting builds. Three aspects come to mind that hindered innovative design thinking and our team:
In deploying additive manufacturing, the knowledge of the complex relationships among material, process and performance are crucial in producing manufacturable parts with good mechanical properties and shape fidelity.
We look forward to exploring what the next generation of machines and software tools have to offer as well as to see it all under one roof at RAPID + TCT later this year.
This project was supported by the Department for National Defence Canada DND 4596-E — Innovation for Defence Excellence and Security program.
1-“Designing for Additive Manufacturing = DfAM + MfAM.” 3Dprint.com, 2020
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