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Mizzou Engineering advancing new manufacturing technique

Professor A. Sherif El-Gizawy and Joshua Arnone, a mechanical and aerospace engineering doctoral student in the foreground, discuss a computer model predicting how a bone implant made using a rapid manufacturing technique will perform. Photo by Anupam Radhakrishnan

A Mizzou Engineering professor is working to refine an advanced manufacturing technique that may make conventional aircraft assembly lines a thing of the past.

A. Sherif El-Gizawy, a mechanical and aerospace engineering faculty member, has received nearly $88,000 from The Boeing Co. to adapt an advanced manufacturing technique for its use in aircraft production. The manufacturing technique—known as “rapid manufacturing”—uses a single computer-guided machine instead of typical manufacturing processes that require numerous expensive tooling machines to build complex components.

“You don’t use a special tool for each shape,” El-Gizawy said. “The savings are tremendous here.”

El-Gizawy’s two-year project centers on a rapid manufacturing technique and high-temperature plastic developed by Stratasys Inc., a Minnesota-based company that produces computer-controlled manufacturing machines. While industry has for decades used computer-aided machines to build model manufacturing components to aid in design and development, machines that can build a useable part directly from a computer program have hit the market only relatively recently.

Industry observers hail rapid manufacturing techniques for their potential to cut costs and time from such standard manufacturing methods as plastic injection molding or die casting and the assembly process they require. Rapid manufacturing also offers extensive control over a component’s internal structure, allowing the construction of more intricate designs, El-Gizawy said.

Boeing has sponsored El-Gizawy’s research project—providing machines worth about $400,000 as well as material—to help determine whether Stratasys’ rapid manufacturing machine and plastic can meet its design production requirements. El-Gizawy and mechanical and aerospace engineering graduate students Joseph Cardona, Brian Graybill and Joshua Arnone will work on two Stratasys machines at Boeing’s Advanced Manufacturing R&D Phantom Works in St. Louis to explore the best process design to produce finished products with the required quality and cost.

Their work also involves determining the properties of the newly developed high-temperature plastic.

“We’ll conduct experimental investigations to measure changes in the material as we change the process design,” Cardona said.

El-Gizawy also will develop a computer model for Boeing that can predict the properties of products made through the Stratasys process with various materials and under varying conditions. The model will help determine what material and conditions would best meet Boeing’s requirements, El-Gizawy said.

The Stratasys technology—with its potential for great precision—may be adaptable for medical use as well, El-Gizawy said.

He is investigating the possibility of using the Stratasys process to create such biomedical products as a bone implant fine-tuned enough to allow a patient’s own bone to grow through and into it. The Stratasys material has much to recommend it, El-Gizawy said.

“This is a plastic, but it is very close to metal in terms of strength and toughness,” he said.

Those properties have prompted Arnone to focus his research on the possibility of using the specialized Stratasys material as a bone graft substitute.

The Stratasys plastic has the potential to provide surgeons with a material that is strong as well as compatible with the human body—two characteristics not typically found together in existing bone graft substitutes, Arnone said.

“This is a material that could be always ready in the operating room,” Arnone said.