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NEWS | March 12, 2018

University of Virginia and NSWC Dahlgren Partnership Impacts 3D Printing Research

By NSWC Dahlgren Division Corporate Communications

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. – University of Virginia professors and students – teaming up with Naval Surface Warfare Center Dahlgren Division (NSWCDD) engineers and scientists through the Naval Engineering Education Consortium (NEEC) – are developing a better understanding of the capabilities and limitations of additive manufacturing (3D printing) and their teamwork is positively impacting Navy programs.   

"We have been very happy to play a small role in an important workforce development program for the defense community,” said University of Virginia professor Dr. Jim Fitz-Gerald. “This has enabled us to work with some outstanding students, and we hope to establish a long-term relationship with Dahlgren that enables us to continue attracting the best undergraduate and graduate students into our program. It is our sincere hope that some of these students will elect to pursue careers within the NSWC complex. It was particularly satisfying to see students outside our funded program get excited about opportunities within the NSWC complex.”

The collaboration, launched in 2016, resulted in an Educational Partnership Agreement, high quality materials research, and increased communication between hiring managers and students preparing for graduation and seeking employment.

“We look forward to continuing and expanding upon the benefits afforded to the Navy, university, faculty and students involved,” said Dr. Tabitha Apple Newman, an NSWCDD engineer who is mentoring the students. “Additive manufacturing research, in particular, reaches across technical fields and capabilities, and allows Dahlgren to immediately better evaluate and design products for its customers - whether for gun prototypes, special-use technologies, CBR (chemical, biological and radiological) defense, or electric weapons.”

Additive manufacturing has been identified as an emergent need for the Navy. The technological capability is an alternative to existing manufacturing technologies based on casting, forging, and machining. Many view it as a critical means of providing rapid prototyping, dimensional restoration, and in-service replacement of legacy components (some of which have no remaining manufacturer).

“The research that the University of Virginia is conducting is an important examination of the microstructure and mechanical properties of alloys relevant to the Navy produced by state of the art additive manufacturing techniques,” said Ricky Moore, an NSWCDD engineer and mentor to the students. “Understanding these properties is paramount as the Navy begins to design, develop, produce, and field components and systems produced with additive manufacturing to improve performance and availability of systems in the Fleet. Without it, much of the promise of additive manufacturing will be out of reach."

The objective of the NSWCDD-University of Virginia project is to develop quantitative connections among materials process parameters, microstructure, and properties. This is a necessary step toward qualification of additively manufactured parts for use in critical load-bearing components.

“The Navy provides guidance to academia, and is, in turn, the recipient of focused, relevant technical contributions to the work we accomplish in support of our warfighters,” said Newman. “The students gain perspective about the context of the research they conduct, and obtain insight into Warfare Center science and technology activities and employment opportunities. Overall, NEEC is an invaluable program and has resulted in an overwhelmingly positive experience for NSWCDD and University of Virginia participants.”

The proposed effort will utilize the extensive and state-of-the-art materials heat treatment, characterization, testing, and analysis capabilities at the University of Virginia and leverage the additive manufacturing capabilities at NSWCDD.

"Our collaboration has opened the door to the fascinating world of additive manufacturing of metals,” said University of Virginia professor Dr. Sean Agnew. “The results we have been able to collect in this study have confirmed that the combined mechanical properties – the strength and ductility of 3D printed 316L stainless steel – can be far superior to incumbent wrought processed material. Not only did we confirm these properties, we also were able to develop structure-property relationships to establish the origin of the enhanced strength. Surprisingly, a higher number of defects in the microstructure actually impart improved properties. The fact that the ductility remains high is still surprising and will serve as the basis for future research. We have been able to parlay this initial experience to build a broader network of collaborators that spans research institutes across the United States and Australia."