Mixing stainless steel with titanium is an idea that equally gives Amit Bandyopadhyay a headache and an adrenaline rush. In 20 years of research on additive manufacturing – or 3D printing – Bandyopadhyay has experimented in printing bone material, moon rock, and plastics, but never two different metals at once.

The challenge came to Bandyopadhyay and Susmita Bose, researchers at Washington State University, from Aerojet Rocketdyne, a Seattle aerospace company looking for new, more efficient and cost-effective ways to manufacture parts for satellites. The cross-state connection was made thanks to the Joint Center for Aerospace Technology Innovation (JCATI), an initiative launched by Washington’s Office of Aerospace in 2012 to continue growth of one of the state’s most vital economic sectors.

JCATI’s mission is to facilitate university-industry partnerships that can provide answers to industry challenges, and explore the possibilities of new technologies. The partnerships also provide opportunities for graduate students that add to workforce development in the sector. Since launching in 2012, JCATI has supported over 30 WSU researchers and students working with industry to improve aspects of the aerospace industry.

University research explores the impossible, finds new solutions

Last week JCATI held its fifth symposium, showcasing the work of the 2016 awardees who bring the total research projects supported by JCATI to 60. (Read this great overview of the event from the Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing.)

Bandyopadhyay attended the symposium with graduate student Tyler Gualtieri to present his third project with Aerojet Rocketdyne. While last year Bandyopadyay and Bose’s research team explored whether additive manufacturing can work with two different kinds of metal, this year they are exploring combing a metal with a ceramic. Printing a part that is made from two different materials would be helpful for rocket parts that need to both withstand high heat like ceramic can, and dissipate that heat through the portion of the part made from metal.

Dr. Bandyopadhyay and graduate student Tyler with Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing Executive Director MaryKaye Bredeson. Photo courtesy of the Center of Excellence.
Dr. Bandyopadhyay and graduate student Tyler with Center of Excellence for Aerospace and Advanced Manufacturing Executive Director MaryKaye Bredeson. Photo courtesy of the Center of Excellence.

While this is very early stage research, the initial results are promising, and suggest manufacturing methods that would save engineers time and money. Keynote speaker Iris Bombelyn was particularly interested in this work, as additive manufacturing was a key part of her talk about the advancements that are changing what is possible in the aerospace industry and beyond.

“Engineers can imagine design solutions now that would have been impossible just a few years ago,” said Bombelyn, a WSU alumna who is a VP at Lockheed Martin, where they are exploring the capabilities of additive manufacturing.

Before new solutions can be imagined, however, companies must know what is possible. That’s where universities come in; what may sound like an impossible idea to a small company with limited R&D funds, can spur discovery for a researcher.

“Questions from industry can lead to a deeper understanding of a material or process, which can lead to broader impacts down the line,” Bandyopadhyay said.

By working together, both WSU and Aerojet benefit. Aerojet gains a deeper understanding of the possibilities of additive manufacturing, and identifies new techniques for manufacturing rockets, satellites and more. At the same time on the academic side, Bandyopadhyay and his graduate students can publish papers on their findings, advancing their fundamental research on materials and opening a new avenue of possibilities for additive manufacturing.

“The benefit of JCATI is more than the money,” Bandyopadhyay said. “The funding is helpful to get the parties to the table, but the more important thing is facilitating relationships that otherwise might not happen.”

In addition to additive manufacturing, the other WSU research funded by JCATI this year addresses challenges including recycling composite materials, developing biofuels from woody biomass, developing bio-based carbon fiber, and developing liquid hydrogen fuel technology.

Here is a list of WSU projects from the most recent funding round:

Aviation Biofuels and Hydrogen fuel

  • An innovative new pathway for producing cost-effective aviation biofuels from woody biomass
  • Catalytic upgrading of biomass-derived lignin to new biojet fuel and its qualification and performance testing
    • Bin Yang and Nels Olson with industry partner Boeing
  • A novel pathway to convert lignin to jet fuel and carbon fiber precursors: optimizing conversion yields
  • Liquid hydrogen fueled ScanEagle phase II: reducing tank manufacturing cost and increasing the efficiency of small-modular hydrogen liquefaction

Advanced Manufacturing and Materials

  • Additive Manufacturing of Bimetallic and Porous Materials for Space Applications
  • Bio-based Acrylonitrile for low-cost, renewable carbon fiber
  • Mild chemical recycling of carbon fiber reinforced thermoset waste and full utilization of recyclates
  • Mechanical pretreatment of wood for cellulosic sugar production on a demonstration scale