UNI's Additive Manufacturing Center purchases cutting-edge new equipment

UNI NEWS SERVICES - The University of Northern Iowa Additive Manufacturing Center (UNI AMC) recently became the first university-based center in the world to purchase a cutting-edge piece of robotics equipment, which will allow the facility to produce castings not previously possible with traditionally tooled investment casting applications.

The new technology, an automated investment casting shell cell purchased with funds from the Strategic Infrastructure Program Grant from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, will increase the center’s material and process research and provide more hands-on learning experiences with advanced technologies for the center’s student employees. 

“The addition of an automated investment casting shelling unit will provide a unique educational experience for our students as well as allows the center to research new methods, materials and processes,” said Jerry Thiel, president for both the UNI Additive Manufacturing and Metal Casting centers. “It provides industrial grade equipment exposure in automation, robotics, data acquisition for process control and other manufacturing 4.0 technologies.”

The automated investment casting shell building cell is a robot that will perform part of the investment casting process. The process is used to make a variety of products, such as castings for the aerospace and industrial gas turbine industries. 

This automated investment casting technology, coupled with the additive manufacturing technologies available at the UNI AMC to produce expendable pattern tooling, will provide additional casting design freedom and allow for designs that can’t currently be printed with conventional tooling.  

Student employees at the UNI AMC who are currently gaining valuable hands-on industry experience will have the chance to expand their skill set by working with the automation cell. Programming, data analysis, material research and working directly with industry partners are some of the opportunities students will receive. 

The UNI AMC will complete the installation and training of the cell by the end of July. 

The UNI AMC is a world-class additive manufacturing center that supplies companies ranging from Iowa’s small businesses to large national companies. The UNI AMC has seen explosive growth since it was launched, doubling in size three times as it helps keep the state’s manufacturers competitive.

About UNI’s Additive Manufacturing Center 

The University of Northern Iowa Additive Manufacturing Center is located at the Cedar Valley TechWorks facility in Waterloo, Iowa, and is operated as a core component of the UNI Metal Casting Center, in the department of technology. It was created over six years ago focusing on additive manufacturing for the metal cast industry. Client companies range from off-road agricultural equipment, automotive, aerospace, municipality, industrial gas turbine and many other types of manufacturing. In addition, the UNI AMC has been a crucial component in the US Defense Department supply chain, working with all branches of the military as well as the Defense Logistics Agency. 

The UNI AMC employs as many as fifteen students throughout an academic semester. Students are given the opportunity to work with a variety of research partners of the UNI AMC, ranging from small businesses to large equipment manufacturers. They gain valuable work experience while developing relationships with the very companies that may hire them after graduation.