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Damon Smith

The Louisiana Board of Regents awarded $150,000 to a University of New Orleans faculty member to research ways to improve and expand the use of 3-D printed products. Damon Smith, assistant professor of mechanical engineering, will use the funding to explore additives for the raw material used in the most widely adopted form of 3-D printing. The ultimate goal is to improve mechanical and optical properties of these products, which would result in wider range of applications for their use.

The process of 3-D printing generally involves the arrangement of successive layers of material that form a solid object according to specifications contained in a digital file. Not all 3-D print technology relies on the same material but one technique has emerged as the most popular among businesses, universities and home consumers, Smith said.

Fused filament fabrication uses thermoplastic filaments as feedstock for layer-by-layer assembly of parts and products. While this 3-D printing platform is popular because of its wide availability and low cost, its drawbacks include limitations on the applications for use of the products it generates, according to Smith. For example, objects created by the fused filament fabrication technique aren’t strong enough for many load bearing uses and don’t have the necessary optical properties required for applications with electronic devices and systems that detect and control light.

Smith’s advanced materials research will focus on the development of nanoparticle additives that will enhance the function of products generated by the fused filament fabrication technique. The goal is to find additives to the thermoplastic raw material currently used in the process that are compatible with the existing technology and multiply the applications for the resulting products.

There is a long track record of successful advanced materials research at the University of New Orleans. The Advanced Materials Research Institute (AMRI) encompasses 10,000 square feet of office and laboratory space, including a 640-square-foot clean room, and an inventory of more than $9.5 million worth of specialized materials research instrumentation to carry out research. With expertise in materials science and nanotechnology, AMRI researchers focus on nanofabrication, magnetism, drug delivery, solar conversion and thermal and electrical transport.

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