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Researcher Focus - Additive Manufacturing

by Paul Glanville


Professor Yong Chen from the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering at the University of Southern California talks about Thin Shell Structures Inspired by Origami

Learn more about this research through the 2013 ASME Congress Proceedings: An Origami Inspired Additive Manufacturing Process for Building Thin-Shell Structures.

For those paying attention to the world of mechanical engineering, additive manufacturing, often referred to as “3D printing”, needs no introduction. The ability to create prototypes and replacement parts at the point of use without the waste of traditional (subtractive) manufacturing is nothing short of revolutionary. Also the precision of today’s 3D printers allows for geometries and tolerances difficult to impossible to make with current manufacturing techniques. One example of the geometries enabled by 3D printing are thin-walled hollow structures (e.g. small containers), historically difficult to manufacture with traditional methods. Researchers at the University of Southern California (USC) are investigating how parts created through additive manufacturing can use origami-inspired folding techniques to create these thin-walled structures.

How did you initially get into your very intriguing research concerning additive manufacturing with thin shell structures? How did the inspiration from origami come about? In our research group, we worked on improving building speed of additive manufacturing for several years. We developed various approaches and Origami was one of the topics identified by NSF solicited proposals [in 2012]. We began to investigate the origami idea to improve the building speed of additive manufacturing.

Your research presented experimental results from a wide set of test conditions, including several assembly tests. What were some challenges you experienced? The test cases were designed to demonstrate the capability of the developed method. How to fold the designed sheet accurately is one of challenges we experienced. In addition, we are actively looking for applications that may benefit from our approach.

What work remains before you complete this R&D program? After submitting the paper, we continued working on the actuation of the folding actions. We will publish some following papers based on our future investigation.

What other applications of additive manufacturing interest you? I am interested in novel applications of additive manufacturing such as dental, aerospace, and robotics.

What other research projects unrelated to additive manufacturing are you currently engaging in, or if this is your focus, what is your next project? Additive manufacturing is currently the focus of our research group. There are many problems to be addressed for this type of manufacturing processes to be more widely used. We are working on many issues including developing functional materials, design for additive manufacturing, smooth surface fabrication, quality control, etc.

When did you first realize you wanted to become an engineer, not just an engineer but a researcher, one that looks for solutions to the tough questions? Was there any other career you thought about pursuing? I wanted to be an engineer, especially a mechanical engineer, since my father was a mechanical engineer. I decided to be a researcher during my PhD study. I enjoy solving new challenges using creative approaches. Being a professor in an engineering school is the career I always wanted.

Do you have experience in industry, in addition, to your experiences in academia? I worked in industry (as a R&D engineer at 3D Systems) for five years before joining USC. I enjoyed the opportunities of working closely with customers and experience the influence of my development work in solving their daily problems. This still influences my research at USC, especially how to pick important research problems to spend time on.

What best practices would you offer an early career engineer about being successful in their careers? It helps my career to be actively involved with professional societies including ASME and SME. It enabled me to meet some senior researchers, who I know by name from their publications. I’ve gotten a lot of good advice from them.

Professor Yong Chen has published papers on The ASME Digital Collection, including the following from the 2013 ASME Congress Proceedings (IMECE2013): An Origami Inspired Additive Manufacturing Process for Building Thin-Shell Structures.

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