Sunday 25th July 2021

Oak Ridge National Lab leading technology of tomorrow

Published on July 19th, 2021

On a recent visit to Oak Ridge National Labs (ORNL) I lost my breath with all the technology that ORNL was taking the lead on in development alongside partnering with manufacturing.

Oak Ridge has some of the most impressive histories found anywhere. Many of you may know of Oak Ridge National Lab because of their research on the Manhattan project ending the war and preventing more Allied casualties, says Joseph Zulick writer and manager at MRO Electric and Supply.

They did astounding work at the Y-12 side of the facility which is a fairly top secret development of defense usage and nuclear design. Some may know ORNL as the power development for nuclear power plants and building the state-of-the-art systems that are safer and more productive energy design. Maybe you know ORNL as the home of the supercomputer. The fastest and most powerful computer is housed there.

But we are going to talk about manufacturing and their use of IoT and additives to produce the latest products for companies and doing research into the latest additive materials.

This area of ORNL is called MDF (Manufacturing Demonstration Facility).

This state-of-the-art area not only utilises the latest and greatest technologies but is on the cutting edge of developing materials that can function in similar ways to the parts we currently use. Many will often say if you build it using another process then why waste time developing other ways to accomplish the same task.

It’s not building the same part, it’s more about how to design one part that replaces 20 parts formed in another process then assembled. If you can develop a part that does this then you can justify the design change. The Oak Ridge MDF is an amazing think tank of technology and one that has led to some amazing developments. Their BAAM additive initiative was one that caught the eye at a previous IMTS show when the vehicle was completely printed on the show floor.

The world’s first 3D-printed composite body for an automobile. Conceived as a showcase for large-scale additive manufacturing capabilities developed through a public/private partnership anchoured by Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL, Oak Ridge, TN), the passenger cell or tub (seat frames, cockpit, hood and tail) and four fenders five pieces total for the 680-kg, battery-powered two-seater Strati were printed in 44 hours. The car subsequently was assembled in two days and driven off the IMTS Emerging Technology Exhibit stand before show’s end to cheers from the crowded exhibit floor.

The demonstration project took advantage of the large-format printing capabilities of the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine, built by Cincinnati Incorporated (Harrison, OH) in cooperation with ORNL. This was the beginning and launching point of developing what is possible. On a podcast, The Destiny of Manufacturing (2), Dr Amy Elliott discusses what is possible by thinking outside of the box. Not only does additive give you the ability to build specialty designs but regional printing can reduce transport of huge parts like those of props for wind farms that can be difficult to ship and a risk to move over those great distances, now they can be printed at the sight or near the location with limited transport. Reducing risk and expense.

They constantly are looking at new systems for printing bigger parts and using technology to close the loop on their measurements by adding sensors everywhere they can to give more information to the systems and tie in additional data from other databases and measurement analysis. Moving this data back and forth between systems has been a primary focus of Oak Ridge’s newest resident genius Dr Tom Kurfess.

Tom Kurfes

Dr Tom Kurfess who was recently elected to the National Academy of Engineers. Is the chief manufacturing officer at Oak Ridge National Labs MDF.

Data not just for the sake of data but data to drive improvement is what Oak Ridge is striving to achieve. Making the systems communication transparent has been a goal they work on daily in order to achieve a seamless transfer from process to process and machine to machine.

Not a group to rest on their Laurels they set their sights on speed, a Shelby Cobra, and using additive processes to fabricate the vehicle. It is an amazing vehicle and a lot of technology to show what is possible in the new additive world. Design and build of Shelby Cobra using additive manufacturing processes.

Some people feel that the technology is limiting and cannot replicate strength. ORNL proved this wrong when they built the first parts for an excavator and integrated the hydraulics into the framework. It’s a breakthrough not only for the process or additive but in material science that can balance strength and weight.

The world’s first additive excavator with integrated hydraulics.

How can we build what is not possible?

The MDF is not a limited application research facility. Their daily tasks include improving the competitiveness of US manufacturing and finding solutions for partnering companies who are interested in sharing information to build a better mousetrap.

Energy is one of these areas in the wind and nuclear power production, but aerospace and consumer electronics have partnering companies also. The goal is to improve productivity and improve processes and gather data that can benefit all of manufacturing and take our competitiveness to the next level.

In the area of additive Oak Ridge doesn’t limit itself to only one technology they are exploring every solution for the best process and the optimum solution. Walking around on their research floor is like a cross between the state of the art and an evil genius lab where no idea that is plausible will be ignored.

Just a short walk from the Summit supercomputer (world’s fastest supercomputer) is where bailing wire meets fibre optic laser used for exploring the speeds that can be used in laying down a melted bead of material. If one welder is good, 3 must be better when exploring the possibility of reaching an optimum productivity that cannot be achieved using just one.

Research is explored on a molecular level to determine the properties that work best together in order to achieve properties of wood with plastic blended together. Material science is held in highest regard as research leaves no stone unturned when we look at what tomorrow will yield on our production floor.

Revitalising US Manufacturing, The Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF), established in 2012, is the Department of Energy’s only designated user facility focused on performing early-stage research and development to improve the energy and material efficiency, productivity, and competitiveness of American manufacturers. Research focuses on manufacturing analysis and simulation, composites and polymer systems, metal powder systems, metrology and characterisation, machine tooling, large-scale metal systems, and robotics and automation.

The MDF comprises 110,000 sq. ft. facility housing integrated capabilities that drive the development of new materials, software, and systems for advanced manufacturing. From binder jetting to 3D tomography to in situ monitoring, the MDF leverages a range of equipment and expertise designed to deliver results that generate energy efficiency improvements in the manufacturing sector, efficiently utilise abundant and available domestic energy resources, and support the production of clean energy products with benefits extending across the nation’s economy.

Factory 4.0 = revolutionising advanced manufacturing with the digital factory. A thriving manufacturing sector is vital to the nation’s economic health and global security, yet few companies possess the research and development capacity essential to staying competitive.

Joseph Zulick

Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL) draws upon unmatched capabilities in materials, neutrons, and computational science to develop innovative manufacturing technologies, helping large and small companies alike. These efforts are directed toward solutions that will drive US economic competitiveness and energy productivity.

Using ORNL’s world-class resources for scientific discovery, such as Summit, the world’s fastest supercomputer, the Spallation Neutron Source (SNS), and the High Flux Isotope Reactor (HFIR), researchers can examine microstructures to better design new materials and fabrication methods, leverage multidisciplinary expertise for the development of new bio-based materials, and measure residual stress to certify printed components. If you need to find a research home for your next project don’t ignore partnering with a government supercharged solution at Oak Ridge!

The author is Joseph Zulick is a manager at MRO Electric and Supply.

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