2nd Generation Powder Spreading Machine - LLNL

Project Type: 
Mechanical Engineering



Additive manufacturing has evolved to the point where we can 3D print complex and custom metal parts. For example, in 2015, NASA 3D printed a rocket fuel injector to be used as flight hardware. Using traditional manufacturing methods, such as machining, this part would have taken 6 months to produce. With 3D printing, it took only 40 hours.  

Currently, 3D printing metals is not perfect. Parts often fail mid-print, or if they are fully printed, their structural integrity is not the same as their machined counterparts. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) wishes to address this problem. They currently carry metal 3D printers from two competing companies: Concept Laser and SLM – both of which are Powder Bed Fusion machines, each with their own unique powder spreading process.  

The Powder Spreading Machine (PSM) will be a research vessel to be used by physicists at the LLNL to investigate Powder Rheology – a branch of physics that deals with the deformation and flow of powder – in order to improve their understanding of the powder spreading process in metal 3D printers. By modeling the powder spreading process, the researchers can better predict the quality of 3D printed parts. The PSM will also be used to conduct R&D trials to validate proposed powder spreading solutions without wasting machine production time at LLNL's manufacturing facilities.  

At UCSB, a team of bright, young individuals will design and build this PSM. The machine will replicate the powder spreading processes found in Concept Laser and SLM machines. The PSM will also be fully autonomous with configurable parameters to adjust various powder spreading settings, such as layer height and spread speed. Lastly, the machine will be easy to operate with a friendly user-interface, and minimal set-up and clean-up times.