DAHLGREN, Va. –
Mechanical engineers have for decades relied on physical prototyping to catch issues from the conceptual design stage, reduce future risk and speed delivery of the final product. The future of prototyping may be a little different thanks to the groundbreaking work currently underway at Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD).
“We have reached a new age,” said Tim Peng, a lead mechanical engineer at NSWCDD. “Additive Manufacturing (AM) technology now allows many parts and components to be made by translating their geometry to a system that can directly fabricate the parts without user intervention beyond initial setup.”
What is AM? “In short, it is the process of depositing material layer upon layer in order to build a final shape,” explained Peng. This new technology allows engineers to go from a 3D computer-aided design concept to a functional component or product in a matter of hours or days, depending on the specific AM process used, rather than weeks.
“Engineers design better products when they are intimately involved with the prototyping of their designs,” Peng said.
Another advantage of using the AM process is the cost saving measures when it comes to making intricate parts – essentially complexity is free. Additionally, most of the waste can be reused into new prints and parts. For many robotic platforms, this freedom gives Peng and his team the ability to test out their creations immediately and make adjustments quickly which shortens the rapid prototyping cycle.
“The point is you can come in with your idea for your drone design, make it, and come out here and start flying,” Peng noted. “From your mind to flying it in the span of a week. And when it crashes, we can just rebuild it right here. We don’t have to buy anything; we already have it.”
A major upside in AM is the capability to create multiple design iterations in a shorter timeframe, according to NSWCDD mechanical engineer Chuck Meas. “Sometimes you’ll get an ideal design that you didn’t even know you wanted just because you’re able to make so many iterations of the product,” Meas said.
From saving money to saving time to developing new and innovative technologies, Peng believes AM will soon be commonplace around the world.
“I think in the future you’re going to see a lot more AM technologies used in everyday items.”