The United States boasts some of the most impressive research universities in the world, many of which have earned a reputation as hotbeds of innovation. Funding from private companies and federal agencies has helped entice thousands of engineers to these schools in an effort to uncover the manufacturing industry’s next breakthrough technology.
In 2014, Walmart awarded seven leading research and development institutions a total of $4 million to uncover new ideas and create jobs that would help boost U.S. manufacturing. In 2015, the U.S. Department of Defense launched a $150 million manufacturing innovation competition designed to encourage manufacturers, universities and non-profits to develop a manufacturing hub focused on revolutionary fibers and textile technologies.
With the ability to attract global innovators and the funding to support them, America’s research universities have been responsible for a number of exciting advancements in manufacturing. Here are three of them...
Purdue University, Indiana: Sinuous flow
Researchers at Purdue University have discovered sinuous flow, a type of metal deformation that could change the way manufacturers cut metals in the future. While using high-speed microphotography to analyze the results of cutting ductile metals, researchers found that metal forms thin folds instead of breaking off the same way each time.
Further testing revealed that since ink traditionally used to mark metals sticks very well, it can significantly suppress the folding behavior brought about by sinuous flow. As a result, applying the standard marking ink may reduce the amount of energy needed to cut metals by up to 50 percent. In addition to improving machining efficiency and the surface quality of metals, using less force will also limit costs by increasing the longevity of cutting tools.
Northwestern University & University of Illinois: Pop-up 3D printing
While the potential of 3D printing within the manufacturing industry has shown great promise, the innovative technology does have its shortcomings. Difficulty adapting to a wide variety of materials coupled with less-than-stellar speeds have limited the impact of 3D printing to date. Those constraints, however, may soon be a thing of the past thanks to researchers at Northwestern University and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
Inspired by a pop-up Christmas card sent to one of their team members, these researchers began to consider the idea of building 3D-printed objects from a flat surface. Implementing the same technique as the pop-up card, they placed small cuts and indentations in plastic objects that would “pop-up” when pushed together to form different shapes.
What makes the design so unique is that flat surfaces can be made quickly from just about any material available. This added flexibility may eventually lead to the creation of pop-up shelters that are shipped flat to natural disasters sites and then easily assembled upon arrival. There is also the possibility that the process could be used in tissue engineering to help mold new tissue to a specific shape and size.
University of Texas: Wearable health patches
Researchers at the University of Texas at Austin have invented a manufacturing method that can create disposable health-monitoring patches. Similar to a tattoo, these thin wearable devices collect data on a user’s vital signs, hydration level, muscle movement, temperature and even brain activity.
Although such devices have drawn interest from consumers eager to maintain a healthy lifestyle, an extensive and costly production process has severely reduced their chances for success. By cutting manufacturing time from several days to 20 minutes, the repeatable “cut-and-paste” method developed by researchers at UT Austin promises to boost those odds. The breakthrough process also does not require a clean room, wafers or advanced equipment, making production relatively inexpensive.
Have you worked or studied at a US research University? What were your impressions of the experience? Which institutes - in the USA or worldwide - do you think deserve more recognition for the research work they're currently doing? Share your thoughts in the comments section below...