DARPA to develop best practices for 3D printing

Just as steel's physical properties change depending on how it's produced, so too do 3D printed materials. However, unlike steel, we don't yet fully understand how different these newfound techniques affect the resulting printed item. Sometimes a printed item -- even if it's made from something common like aluminum -- ends up having a very different microstructure had it been created with traditional, subtractive methods. You can see an example of that below. Heck, even using the same material on different printer models can result items with wildly divergent properties. But DARPA is looking to change that. The DoD's advanced research agency announced Friday that it is launching an Open Manufacturing program to create comprehensive reference documentation for 3D printing and usher in an era of productive predictability.

"The Open Manufacturing program is fundamentally about capturing and understanding the physics and process parameters of additive and other novel production concepts, so we can rapidly predict with high confidence how the finished part will perform," said Mick Maher, program manager in DARPA's Defense Sciences Office, said in a statement. Specifically DARPA will be focusing on a pair of metal additive processes (for nickel and titanium, respectively) as well bonded composite structures. DARPA is teaming with Penn State and the Army Research Lab for the program. These research institutes will act as both test centers for generating the reference materials as well as knowledge repositories once the program has concluded.

"Historically, U.S. military advantages were supplied by breakthroughs in materials and manufacturing," Maher explained. "More recently, the risks that come along with new manufacturing have caused a lack of confidence that has stifled adoption. Through the Open Manufacturing program, DARPA is empowering the advanced manufacturing community by providing the knowledge, control, and confidence to use new technology."