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VTT has 3D printed a smart metal shaft

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland, which is developing future manufacturing concepts, has succeeded in 3D printing a smart shaft, combining sensor technology, wireless data transfer, and condition monitoring in the same package. The new manufacturing methods will enable the creation of new business models and provide a competitive edge in developing AI, VTT said.


3D printed shaft with sensing element and wiring. Antti Vaajoki, VTT

3D printing of items based on digital models enables the tailoring of parts and rapid manufacture on demand. There is widespread investment in R&D to expand the capability to deliver smart solutions in which sensors form a functional part of a 3D printed metal structure, but few have succeeded in developing a working solution.

VTT’s proof-of-concept demo showed that a range of sensors or smart identifications can be added to 3D printed metal parts during manufacture, in order to track the performance and condition of machines or devices, or verify the authenticity of the parts.

We performed a successful smart component demo, in which we explored potential technologies. During the manufacturing phase, we embedded an accelerometer and the necessary wiring into a 3D printed metal shaft for a friction bearing. In addition, electronics allowing wireless communication were installed on the bearing. We were able to demonstrate the reliability of the shaft’s measurement technology and data transfer on a bearing test bench. The rapid collection and use of accurate data markedly increase when data is directly transferred from the component to the cloud wirelessly. This will enable us to take the next big step towards artificial intelligence.

—Research Team Leader Pasi Puukko

The method provides the designer with a much higher degree of freedom compared to traditional manufacturing methods. For example, a device with a wear-measuring sensor provides up-to-date information allowing the necessary maintenance to begin automatically, without breaks in production.

The developed method has a wide range of possible applications: from the manufacture of industrial machines to the energy, mining and transport industries. Embedded sensors are ideal for demanding conditions, because the sensors and wiring are protected inside the component, and normal functioning is unimpeded by extraneous wiring on the surfaces of structures.


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