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ORNL, Cincinnati Inc. partner to develop commercial large-scale polymer additive manufacturing system

18 February 2014

The Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory is partnering with Cincinnati Incorporated, a manufacturer of high quality machine tools located in Harrison, Ohio, to develop a large-scale polymer additive manufacturing (3-D printing) system.

The partnership aims to accelerate the commercialization of a new additive manufacturing machine that can print large polymer parts faster and more cheaply than current technologies. The partnership agreement supports the Department’s Clean Energy Manufacturing Initiative. (Earlier post.)

Additive manufacturing, often called 3-D printing, can offer time, energy and cost savings over traditional manufacturing techniques in certain applications, but most 3-D polymer printers on the market today can only fabricate small prototype parts.

By building a system that is 200 to 500 times faster and capable of printing polymer components 10 times larger than today’s common additive machines—in sizes greater than one cubic meter—the ORNL-Cincinnati project could introduce significant new capabilities to the US tooling sector, which in turn supports a wide range of industries. Access to such technology could strengthen domestic manufacturing of highly advanced components for the automotive, aerospace, appliance, robotics and many other industries.

The cooperative research and development agreement was signed at the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility (MDF) established at ORNL by DOE’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy and funded through its Advanced Manufacturing Office. The MDF helps industry develop, demonstrate and adopt new manufacturing technologies that reduce life-cycle energy and greenhouse gas emissions, lower production costs and create new products and opportunities for high-paying jobs.

The project will draw on Cincinnati’s experience in the design, manufacturing and control of large-scale manufacturing systems, especially laser cutting systems used in metal fabrication. Cincinnati focuses on manufacturing powdered metal compacting presses, a process used to produce high volume production parts for the automotive industry. The machine tool manufacturer has shipped more than 55,000 machines during its 115 years of operation.

The partners will start by incorporating additive manufacturing technology with the machine base of CINCINNATI’s advanced laser cutting system, creating a prototype, large-scale additive manufacturing system. The research team will then integrate a high-speed cutting tool, pellet feed mechanism and control software into the gantry system to offer additional capabilities.

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