In a long feature article by Joseph Bednar, published on February 19, Business West sang the praises of the Advanced Digital Design & Fabrication Lab, or ADDFab for short — one of 31 “core facilities” in the Institute for Applied Life Sciences at UMass Amherst. Professor Sundar Krishnamurty, the head of the Mechanical and Industrial Engineering Department, is also the co-director of the ADDFab and contributed mightily to the Business West article.
Located on the 4th floor in the Life Science Laboratories, the ADDFab houses state-of-the-art metal and polymer 3D printers for research, education, and printing what it calls “amazing parts.”
In addition to being accessible to UMass students and faculty, ADDFab is also available for use by academic institutions, industry, and the local community. ADDFab has an array of cutting-edge, industrial-grade, 3D printers with three primary goals for serving this diverse customer base: to engineer and print great parts in metals and polymers; to support academic research; and to provide training and educational opportunities.
As the Business West article noted, “ADDFab is creating something significant in the manufacturing world, and not just the products it forms from metal and polymer powders. No, it’s also building connections between young talent and companies that will increasingly need it as 3D printing becomes more mainstream. And it does so with a focus — no, an insistence — on hands-on learning.”
In that regard, the article also covered the work of two mechanical engineering students, Jeremy Hall and Jack Ford, and the projects they are undertaking in ADDFab.
Krishnamurty told Business West that “We’re a research university, so we want our researchers to develop new knowledge, and we hope this will be a medium for that. Second, there’s a lot of experiential learning for our students. Third, we have good engagement with our industries, especially small and medium-sized companies in the area.”
The article explained how “The equipment itself is impressive — two metal printers and three polymer printers, each using different raw materials and different technologies to produce an endless array of products.”
The facility supports UMass Amherst itself in several ways, as students and faculty can be trained to use the equipment to conduct their own research on additive manufacturing, while ADDFab also provides printing services and engineering support for faculty in all academic departments.
But, according to Business West, ADDFab’s outreach to industry might be the “most intriguing element.” ADDFab provides outreach to industry by giving workshops, which are intended to broaden understanding of how 3D printing will affect the manufacturing industry and to provide hands-on skills. It also gives industrial outreach through a state-funded voucher program that gives businesses with fewer than 50 employees a 50 percent subsidy to access the core facilities, and businesses with fewer than 10 employees a 75 percent break.
Krishnamurty explained that “We really want to be partnering with local industries in helping us identify the gaps and where we can provide leadership, expertise, and resources to help them achieve their goals.”
According to Business West, it is clear what happens when students are well-trained on cutting-edge, 3D-printing technology and area manufacturers learn more about its potential. The result is positive workforce development that helps businesses grow while keeping talent in Western Massachusetts.
Meanwhile, area companies — including Peerless Precision, Volo Aero, FTL Labs, Cofab Design, and MultiSensor Scientific — continue to take advantage of ADDFab’s resources, often through the voucher program, either to make 3D products or learn more about how to incorporate the technology. Responding to a commonly raised concern, Krishnamurty stressed that all intellectual property stays with the companies.
Krishnamurty said that ADDFab wants to partner with local industries to identify and fill workforce and training gaps. And, if the facility can perform such services while training the next generation of engineers and boosting workforce development for the region’s manufacturing sector, well, that’s a clear win-win-win.
“These are truly one-of-a-kind facilities,” he said, speaking not just of ADDFab, but all the core facilities at UMass Amherst. “I think the future is endless.” (March 2019)