PEI

UPEI's 3D metal printer a 'game changer' for engineering students

Students in UPEI's Faculty of Sustainable Design Engineering have a new 3D metal printer to learn from, giving them hands-on experience in some cutting edge technology.

UPEI is working with clients in manufacturing, defence and aerospace industries

Students in material science class will get the opportunity to do traditional machining or subtractive manufacturing as well as to 3D print something they design says Amy Hsiao, an associate professor in engineering at UPEI. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Students in UPEI's faculty of sustainable design engineering have a new 3D metal printer to learn from.

"This is one of maybe a handful of 3D metal printers across the country," said assistant professor Grant McSorley.

"It's very rare that a grad student gets the opportunity to work with one of these, to get hands-on training on something like this."

The machine uses lasers to fuse powders together to form an object. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

McSorley says 3D printing, especially with metal, changes the design process for engineers and can speed up the time it takes to get from design to manufacturing.

"It's a game changer," McSorley said.  

"You can have one of these machines set up on-site around the world so you can print spare parts on demand, make design changes on demand, and then integrate them directly into the product."

The leftover powder is brushed off as the newly printed objects are revealed. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

Additive manufacturing

McSorley calls 3D printing additive manufacturing, compared to traditional manufacturing where material is subtracted to create a product.

The machine uses lasers to fuse powders together to form an object.

The 3D metal printer cost about $500,000 with several thousand more for the powders. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"It's really exciting, it's really amazing," said Amy Hsiao, an associate professor in engineering.

"The students in material science class will get the opportunity to do traditional machining or subtractive manufacturing as well as to 3D print something they designed."

New design approach

The 3D metal printer cost about $500,000 for the equipment, as well as a couple of thousand for the powders, which can include steel alloy, aluminum and also titanium.

"This is the forefront of innovative technology," Hsiao said.

"Our students can get practice in a new design approach."​

Some of the test objects printed by the 3D metal printer. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)
​​​UPEI is also working with clients in the manufacturing, defence and aerospace industries.

"Additive manufacturing, one of the things it allows us to do is to remove weight from products and from parts that we're building," McSorley said.

"In aerospace that's a huge element because you want to have as lightweight parts as you possibly can."

Graduate student Kendrew Larkin is working on a research project in partnership with MDS Coatings, an aerospace company based in Slemon Park, P.E.I.

Graduate student Kendrew Larkin measures the powder to be used in the 3D metal printer. (Randy McAndrew/CBC)

"It's really great to be working with an industry partner," Larkin said.

"I'd like to have a career in additive manufacturing so it is very interesting to me."

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About the Author

Nancy Russell has been a reporter with CBC since 1987, in Whitehorse, Winnipeg, Toronto and Charlottetown. When not on the job, she spends her time on the water rowing, travelling to Kenya or walking her dog. Nancy.Russell@cbc.ca

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