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Additive Manufactured Smart Structures with Discrete Embedded Sensors



OBJECTIVE: Development of a hybrid additive manufacturing / 3D printing method capable of printing polymer and/or metallic smart structures with embedding electronic devices, such as sensors, accelerometers, antennas, tracking systems, etc. 

DESCRIPTION: The Army desires to enhance the effectiveness and survivability of our ground systems by embedding sensors and electronics into both metallic and polymer structures. These sensors will be able to add health monitoring functionalities, threat detection, and improved communications. The goal is add these capabilities without no visual signatures, which would suggest that electronics devices are embedded. The purpose of this STTR is to explore the use of emerging Additive Manufacturing (AM) techniques to increase manufacturing flexibility and produce more effective metallic and polymer structures. Technology will support a wide range of military applications, such as autonomous vehicles and bridge structures. Additive Manufacturing (AM) describes technologies that fabricate 3-dimensional objects by progressively building up material. Typically, successive layers of material are deposited under computer control to form an intended object. The term AM encompasses many approaches and includes the concepts of 3D Printing, Direct Digital Manufacturing (DDM), layered manufacturing, additive fabrication, and printed circuit boards. While these technologies are long established state-of-art fabrication technologies, little work has been done to look at interrupting the fabrication process and adding secondary operations such are machining, printed electronics and allowing pick & place of selected electronics. The technology will need to integrate temperature/vision sensors, closed feedback control, and precise CNC movement. 

PHASE I: Perform proof-of-concept analysis and experiments that demonstrate the feasibility of a hybrid AM technology: -Demonstrating the feasibility of using the AM technology to process the chosen structural materials by fabricating laboratory test coupons that possess the required material properties and represent a path to producing the target components. -Demonstrating the feasibility of producing simple polymer component geometries with embedded electronics -Identifying the key process parameters that need to be controlled and optimized in order to develop an effective method that can be transitioned into a qualified operation. -Develop process needed to manufacture metallic structures 

PHASE II: Expand the scope of the Phase I exploration to study AM technologies suitable for manufacture of both large scale Metallic and Polymer structures with a wide range of internal electronics. A robust prototype AM system will be produced under the Phase II. Work should include a review of requirements and the development of the system design relevant to a chosen application. The project should then proceed to acquire or build the necessary components and fabricate the prototype AM system in line with the design. Method studies should be performed to explore the prototype systems fabrication of test coupons and representative parts using the MMC. The prototype AM system should be improved in the course of the method studies to incorporate results of the research. Method development should be verified through materials analysis of test coupons that confirm and improve the theoretical basis for the method. Materials tests that are appropriate for the target application should be developed and used to validate the performance of the technology. Coupons will have a rough size of 12 inches wide, 12 inches long, and a height of 6 inches. Phase II deliverables include the prototype AM system, 6 test coupons and a detailed final report describing the testing implementation and results, and scale-up observations. The report must also contain detailed procedures for casing material synthesis/fabrication and scaling. 

PHASE III: With a successful Phase II demonstration, the contractor shall determine the capabilities for process control and the development of a strategy for qualification. Additionally, the contractor shall integrate and test the solution on several vehicle platform and demonstrate a path to commercialization and certification. Initial applications focus on the deployment novel vehicle and bridging components. Commercial applications are widespread, including personal and medical devices. Focus will be on Structural health monitoring/sensing. 


1: Siggard, Erik J., et al. "Structurally embedded electrical systems using ultrasonic consolidation (UC)." Proceedings of the 17th solid freeform fabrication symposium. 2006.

2: Bourell, D. L., et al. "A brief history of additive manufacturing and the 2009 roadmap for additive manufacturing: looking back and looking ahead." Proceedings of RapidTech (2009): 24-25

3: Love, Lonnie J., et al. "The importance of carbon fiber to polymer additive manufacturing." Journal of Materials Research 29.17 (2014): 1893-1898.

4: D. Espalin, D. W. Muse, F. Medina, E. MacDonald, and R. B. Wicker, 3D Printing multi-functionality: structures with electronics," International Journal of Advanced Manufacturing Technology

5: MacDonald; R. Salas; D. Espalin; M. Perez; E. Aguilera; D. Muse; R. Wicker, "3D Printing for the Rapid Prototyping of Structural Electronics," Access IEEE, no.99, pp. 1-12, 2013.


KEYWORDS: Additive Manufacturing, Additive Fabrication, 3D Printing, Direct Digital Manufacturing, Layered Manufacturing, Embedded Sensors / Electronics, Hybrid Additive Manufacturing, Printed Electronics 

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