Two 3D printers are no longer sitting idle in Huntsville thanks to Auburn University’s partnership with Huntsville City Schools, the U.S. Army and NASA.
Several years ago, Huntsville City Schools decided to invest in new 3D printing equipment for polymers and metals. They bought two EOS M290 metal 3D printers, the same type Auburn University has in the basement of Wiggins Hall that are used for additive manufacturing, said Steven Taylor, associate dean for the Samuel Ginn College of Engineering.
“When they invested in it, there was a different superintendent and a couple people who were going to run that program, but since then, that superintendent left, and so the printers were sitting idle,” Taylor said.
When the new superintendent started, ideas were shared about what to do with the $2 million worth of machines.
“We started talking with them,” Taylor said. “We said, ‘The taxpayers of Huntsville made a significant investment. Rather than losing your investment, why don’t we partner with you?’ So, we helped them get up and running again.”
Auburn University’s National Center for Additive Manufacturing Excellence will place a graduate student at each school with a printer to help teach the students and teachers how to use them and provide support.
“In exchange for that, the partnership says that we can use those machines also for research purposes when their students aren’t using them,” Taylor said.
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NCAME also partnered with Huntsville City Schools, the U.S. Army Aviation and Missile Research, Development and Engineering Command, AMRDEC and NASA for research and workforce development in additive manufacturing in Alabama to get the printers back online in the schools. Taylor said he believes partnering with Huntsville City Schools will put Auburn in a good place to recruit future leaders and have accessibility to two more EOS M290 metal 3D printers.
“We’re doing fundamental research on how to make parts stronger, better with additive manufacturing,” Taylor said. “The challenge is how do you improve the structural integrity of the parts. There’s a research component to this project that’s funded through NASA, but there is also a workforce development angle — ‘How do we educate students on how to use this technology?’”
Another part of the interest is to grow relationships and plant a seed of Auburn in Huntsville.
Auburn’s NCAME will keep its eyes open for students who stand out in the programs to potentially recruit for the University. Understanding the importance of additive manufacturing puts this all into perspective, Taylor said.
“We can make stuff that we couldn’t make before for rocket motors and things like that,” Taylor said. “They have all kinds of features internally, just the way it’s made, we couldn’t have made something like that before.”
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