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NEWS | Aug. 26, 2016

3D Printing

By Marlowe Churchill

Vincent Capobianco of Corona’s Measurement Science and Engineering Department first anticipated the potential of 3D printers over three years ago, sending him on a laborious but rewarding process to calibrate the printers.

“I was intrigued and went out and bought a 3D printer,” said Capobianco, an engineer who was hired at NSWC Corona in 2010. “It just blew my mind. It’s a new way of manufacturing.”

What he ended up creating has now caught the eye of Navy innovators and private industry, plus netted him a top Navy innovation recognition as he awaits a patent.

But as with any new technology, 3D printers have flaws that show when creating 3D items. Some printers can do certain tasks better than others, and some cannot duplicate what they are designed to do and must be fine-tuned through calibration. As a measurement scientist, Capobianco knew he needed to find a way to calibrate them to perform as designed.

“How do you assess 3D printers?” he said he first asked himself. Geometry, he said, was the simple answer that led him to his unique calibration test.

Through painstaking efforts, he created four odd-looking items, called artifacts, that must be duplicated by the 3D printer to verify 14 criteria: straightness, flatness, circularity, cylindricity, profile of line, profile of surface, concentricity, position, symmetry, parallelism, perpendicity, angularity, run-out and total run-out.

“These were very difficult to design,” he said of the four artifacts that are precisely measured. “How flat should it be? How circular?”

Capobianco found a great deal of encouragement from fellow scientists and engineers who could see the new 3D printing technology beset with issues – all pointing toward a uniform way to calibrate it. He found scientists at sister warfare centers, plus at Lockheed, Northrop and other industries, enthusiastic about testing his calibration method by re-creating Capobianco’s four artifacts on their own 3D printers. He discovered that no 3D printer is perfect. Some of the artifacts came back hilariously misshapen.

But with the Navy’s ambitious goal of putting a 3D-printed metal part on flight-ready naval aircraft within the next two years, a 3D typo on an F/A-18 Hornet going Mach 1 would be no laughing matter.

Capobianco’s says his idea “demonstrates the power of Corona” by showcasing the caliber of engineering available at the warfare center.

His reward for innovation was an honorable mention in the Secretary of Navy Innovative Award Additive Manufacturing Technologies category, and showcasing his invention at the April 21 Naval Innovative Science and Engineering Expo at the Pentagon with other top Navy innovators – including Corona’s Gary Lunt and Michael Yeh.

Capobianco, who has a Bachelor of Science in aerospace engineering at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona, received NISE Program funding grants the past three years to continue and finance his research of the fledgling technology that holds such bold potential for military and civilian application.

“Everybody needs standards” for operating precise technologies, he concluded.

His visit to the Pentagon and the positive feedback he has so far received has dazed and amazed him. He said he is overwhelmed with thoughts that “I can change the world” of 3D with this new invention. “It works,” he said.

Capobianco credits his late grandfather Ray Sparks, a World War II aircraft mechanic who became an engineer and pilot, with constantly inspiring him to find new solutions to engineering problems. Sparks was a founder of the Condor Squadron, a non-profit organization in Van Nuys that flies World War II fighter aircraft, and died in October 2015.