Speeding the adoption of industrial additive manufacturing (AM) equipment and processes on shop floors is one of the key goals of a world-class University of Waterloo facility that received a major funding boost.
Experts at the Multi-Scale Additive Manufacturing Lab, which is backed by nearly $27 million in cash and in-kind support, will help Canadian companies tap the enormous potential of AM, commonly known as 3D printing, while also advancing the technology itself through research.
“Additive manufacturing is poised to fundamentally change the way things are made,” said Feridun Hamdullahpur, president and vice-chancellor at Waterloo. “Fuelled by a culture of innovation and backed by broad expertise in the advanced manufacturing sector, we look forward to playing a key role with our partners in unlocking the potential of this exciting technology.”
Bardish Chagger, MP for Waterloo and the minister of small business and tourism, was on campus to announce $8.9 million in funding for the lab through the Federal Economic Development Agency for Southern Ontario (FedDev Ontario).
“We are proud to support the University of Waterloo in continuing its role as a leader in additive manufacturing, innovation and strategic partnerships with the private sector,” said Chagger. “Today’s announcement demonstrates our commitment to supporting innovation, which translates into creating jobs and opportunities for middle-class Canadians.”
“The Government of Canada is committed to supporting innovation and competitiveness on a global scale,” added Navdeep Bains, the minister of innovation, science and economic development, and minister responsible for FedDev Ontario. “This means investing in research and development to place Canada at the leading edge of disruptive manufacturing technologies. It also means supporting the skills training for manufacturing jobs now and in the future.”
Combined with $6.2 million from the Government of Ontario, it is the largest-ever government investment in AM at a Canadian university.
“The Multi-Scale Additive Manufacturing Lab at the University of Waterloo is an innovative initative that aligns perfectly with our province’s innovation strategy,” said Reza Moridi, Ontario’s minister of research, innovation and science. “It is key to ensuring Ontario’s competitiveness when it comes to the manufacturing sector, which is an integral part of our province’s economy.”
Traditional manufacturing processes cut and shape individual parts out of blocks of material. AM devices gradually build up parts instead, progressively adding layers of material based on three-dimensional computer designs.
AM will give manufacturers much greater design flexibility while also reducing waste and saving energy. They will also be able to rapidly prototype and quickly repair, instead of replacing, worn or broken parts.
The Waterloo lab is focused on the development of next-generation AM to process metals through the use of new sensors, quality-assurance software and machine intelligence. A major patented innovation is the fabrication of smart components by 3D printing of sensors and their embedment into metal parts.
“Through the support of the Government of Canada, this state-of-the-art lab will merge high technology with additive manufacturing,” said Pearl Sullivan, dean of engineering at Waterloo. “From machine design to the additive manufacturing process to final part quality, Canadian manufacturers now have a research hub to help them adopt end-to-end process innovation on their shop floors.”
Experts at the lab will work directly with companies to develop high-value products using AM processes, equipping them to either do their own production or outsource it.
AM is still relatively expensive and slow compared to current manufacturing methods, particularly for mass production, but its use is expected to increase dramatically as advancements are made.
Building on expertise and patented technology developed at Waterloo in the last 17 years, research will involve at least 14 professors and dozens of engineers, post-doctoral fellows, graduate students and co-op students.
When fully equipped, the Waterloo lab will be one of the 10 largest university-based AM facilities in the world. Researchers will also collaborate with peer institutions with top AM labs, including those in Germany, the United States, England and Singapore.
Numerous industry partners and the University itself have also contributed cash or in-kind support to the lab.