3D printing research lab in Waterloo receives $27 million

A 3D printing research lab at the University of Waterloo received $27 million in funding from government and industry partners to investigate metals 3D printing.

‘I think we can be a world leader in additive manufacturing, we’re not right now.’

Mark Barfoot, managing director at the Multi-Scale Additive Manufacturing Lab at the University of Waterloo holds a sample 3D-printed part for a space shuttle. (Flora Pan/CBC)

The Multi-Scale Additive Manufacturing Lab at University of Waterloo recently received $27 million from the Ontario government, the university and industry partners.

The lab already received some of the funding, and has brought in new equipment and researchers which helped expand the facility into a full-functioning metals additive manufacturing research lab.

Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, is a process where parts are built from scratch layer by layer with raw materials like metal powders.

Two of several new machines that the lab purchased with the funding. Both of these models are used for 3D printing metal. (Flora Pan/CBC)

Mark Barfoot, the lab's managing director said the funding will help them focus on researching metals particularly for industry.

"It's a really growing area. People want to be able to produce manufactured parts they can use in a production environment," he said.

The lab will be working closely with industry partners on short-term projects that address acute needs.

For example, the aerospace industry needs lighter parts for aircraft and space shuttles. The lab is working on using metal additive manufacturing techniques to build those parts. 

Traditional manufacturing techniques don't allow for intricate designs, which isn't a problem for additive manufacturing.

This titanium part is to be mounted inside the spacecraft, without the supporting tree in the center. It's used for mounting other parts on the top branches. It's 40 per cent lighter than a non-3D-printed part. (Flora Pan/CBC)

"We can do a much lighter shape," said Barfoot. Reducing weight can mean significant fuel savings on an aircraft.

Barfoot said he's excited to see the lab grow in the future, perhaps also doing research on new plastics 3D printing technology.

"Part of the reason I came was I want to see additive manufacturing growing in Canada," he said, "I think we can be a world leader in additive manufacturing, we're not right now."