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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

URI professor and URI Foundation team up
to help manufacturers stay a step ahead

KINGSTON, R.I. -- January 13, 2000 -- Thanks to the groundbreaking work of Brent Stucker, URI assistant professor of industrial and manufacturing engineering, the University is the only institution in the world to possess the combination of two machines that will help keep URI researchers and American manufacturers a step ahead of the rest of the world.

Through creative funding provided by the URI Foundation, Stucker was able to obtain the selective laser sintering Sinterstation 2500plus and the Laser Engineered Net Shaping System (LENS) at a total cost of $650,000. Sintering is heating materials until they are stuck together.

The Sinterstation laser sintering device, made by DTM Corp. Austin, Texas, replaces an older model that Stucker brought to URI when he moved here from Texas A&M University. The Sinterstation 2500plus is already being used in Stucker's Rapid Manufacturing Center, while the LENS machine has been delivered and has been successfully used since November.

"As far as I know, only one other location in the world has these two machines, Sandia National Laboratories, but it has the older versions of the equipment," Stucker said, who lives Richmond.

For URI students and those businesses that financially support the work of URI's Rapid Manufacturing Center, the purchases are big news. Up until now, steel was the preferred choice for molds used in plastic injection molding for mass-produced products. "But steel doesn't cool very fast, so you can't make as many goods per hour as you might want to, whether they be cars or G.I. Joes," Stucker said have complex cooling properties.

The Laser Engineered Net Shaping System (LENS), built by Optomec Design Co., Albuquerque, N.M., allows Stucker to use metal and ceramic powders to create fully solid structures. "We can design and specify the shape and materials for each section of the mold or part," Stucker said. In other words, a metal powder could be used in one section, a ceramic in another, or a combination in a third. "Now we can make something as simple as a cube or as complex as a jet engine component, not out of one costly material, but instead using a costly outer protective covering, like a titanium alloy, and using a cheap interior. This lowers the cost and improves productivity.

"Steel can usually only absorb between 100,000 and 500,000 shots of molten aluminum during mass production," Stucker said. "But a die casting tool with a molybdenum (metal) skin and a steel core could potentially absorb millions of shots during manufacturing." Stucker said the process used to make jet engines could be radically altered using such a process. The inside of a jet engine is very hot and corrosive, while the outside is cold. Using the process just described, the inside of the engine could be made with a more expensive material and the outside out of cheaper metal.

In the future when there are long space flights to Mars or Jupiter, missions would only have to carry various ceramic or metal powders to recreate or repair parts while in flight. "This is technology NASA could use for rebuilding parts in space," Stucker said.

The URI Foundation is an independent, charitable corporation, established in 1957 by an act of the Rhode Island General Assembly. Its purpose is to encourage and manage private donations, including endowments, for the benefit of the University. Its 175 trustees elect officers and an executive board of 19 members.


For Further Information: Dave Lavallee 401-874-2116


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