AMIST Looks to Future of 3-D Printing

August 5, 2020

Dr. Sundar Atre

Dr. Sundar Atre

Changes are ahead for University of Louisville’s Speed School Additive Manufacturing Institute of Science and Technology (AMIST). Newly appointed AMIST director Dr. Sundar Atre, professor in Mechanical Engineering and Endowed Chair of Manufacturing and Materials, is creating an interdisciplinary program on Digital Manufacturing and Design at the University of Louisville.

AMIST aims to become a leading hub for collaborative research and education in additive manufacturing and related digital technologies that transform product development and innovation through scientific and engineering knowledge. See this AMIST video to learn more.

As director of AMIST, the professor is bringing together and capitalizing on the different facets of the facility’s activities to benefit the research and academic mission of the university.

“As 3D printing is scaling into greater acceptance, we have an untapped opportunity,” said Atre. “AMIST was set up with the idea that 3D printing is a huge asset on the UofL campus, and I believe it has the opportunity to become a leading program in the country,” said Atre.

During the early days of COVID-19, the facility’s Coronavirus Task Force, led by Ed Tackett and Speed School students donating their time, stepped up quickly and demonstrated its commitment to a community in need by facilitating the production, assembly and delivery of more than 90,000 PPE (personal protective equipment) face shields to aid local and regional medical professionals and first responders.

“Across campus, we have expertise and capabilities that if brought together, could be leveraged to build something greater than sum of the parts, a program of national significance,” said Atre. “We want to set up an entity that will facilitate collaborations between faculty with expertise and research interests, and staff infrastructure that will develop network and capabilities. The question is how do we fit the different pieces together so that is possible?”

According to Atre, one of those pieces with far greater potential was the natural fit between the medical dental applications possible with 3-D printing, centered on customized care.

“What we do with engineering in terms of materials manufacturing and design efficiencies is definitely the niche at UofL that is not something everyone has,” he said. “Not only do we have the medical science campus and dental schools, but we also have a 3D printing program that on its own merit had potential to do well,” he said.

It was this synergistic opportunity that brought both Atre and Gerald Grant, professor in the School of Dentistry to the university. Dr. Grant’s research is in the validation and applications of advanced digital dental technologies, virtual surgical applications, advanced digital applications in the design and fabrication of medical devices for craniofacial reconstruction, dental restoration and rehabilitation, and recently in bio-printing/bio-fabrication. He is working closely with Atre to stimulate partnerships between additive manufacturing and the medical and dental schools.

For example, working with a physician and an engineer, Grant can help connect the two to develop a personalized care device customized to fit for a patient in neurosurgery, pediatrics or orthopedics through projects like INTERFACE.

“INTERFACE allows me to connect any doctors or dentists who have any thoughts about devices they want to develop with engineering students to do the design and build prototypes. This is the kind of thing that has never really been done before,” he said. The trick, said Grant, is to spread the word to other schools at the university that there is access to this technology and expertise, and that they don’t have to reinvent the wheel themselves.

Grant said there is a timeliness to promoting the concept of 3D printing at the present moment.

“During COVID-19 when the supply chain got disrupted and the local availability of PPE components in the global economy was getting hampered, 3D printing was a solution. There is a general awareness right now that 3D printing can do things in a bind we can’t do otherwise.”

Besides fabrication of medical and dental devices, current initiatives for AMIST include human tissues and organs for clinical therapeutics, in-vitro drug testing using 3D bioprinting technologies, and laser and e-beam powder bed processes for metals, plastics, and ceramics.

From a 10,000 foot viewpoint, Atre said he hopes to work toward three goals to channel AMIST into a “flow of people and ideas to make this a vibrant academic community around the resource.

“We need to make our research output stronger,” he said. “We have close to 30-something faculty that connect to the space of 3D printing and programs. We have a great opportunity to see what we have in terms of staff capabilities and our infrastructural resources,” Atre said.

Secondly, Atre said AMIST needs to ensure the program is connecting faculty expertise to enable grad students and post docs to do the research while also enabling design and undergrad students to feed into that. Towards that end, Atre hopes that as students graduate and the additive manufacturing industry expands, Speed School can offer a certification online program as well as an MS program in additive manufacturing and design.

“We graduate 300 students with design skills with undergrad and graduate degrees,” he said. “Designing for additive and designing for customized care is very unique. We have the opportunity to become a recognized place to hire students coming with those skills.”

Atre believes this means Speed School has a chance to be initiators in terms of community engagement.

“Can we play a role there, can our students play a more active role? Atre asked. “We see this generation of kids are not happy just sitting and hitting the books. They want to be doing something that is more hands-on, but more importantly they want to be able to make a difference, they want to be connected. When we begin to channel that in a tangible manner we are providing another differentiator. We have a chance for UofL to be able to grow programs and socially engaged engineers, socially engaged health care professionals.”

The third area of focus to make AMIST a leading program is outreach, said Atre. “In terms of overall impact, when we have all these people coming in for our students training, modeling research and co-ops, what will be the structure that will allow industry persons to connect to it through an expanded consortium?” he said.

“There is the potential for lot of economic impact and connecting it to the city’s mission to attract companies here –entrepreneurship, innovation, new business opportunities,” said Atre. “We could be that type of R&D and workforce-generating component necessary to drive growth,” said Atre. The question and opportunity is can Louisville build an economy around additive manufacturing? That is a forward looking and bold statement.”

Atre said that even informally Speed School is connected to about 50 companies, and has networked with at least twice that many. “Now how do we take that and give something for people to rally around and create the value proposition and compelling rationale for somebody to come here?

One answer, said Atre, is Louisville’s connection to key industries – aerospace for example.  “Kentucky is the number two exporter of aerospace goods and services in the country – not many people know that. UofL is the only university partnering with NASA in the space manufacturing (Fab Lab) program. Auto industry assembly design is also a prominent industry in Kentucky, and it is being enabled by additive manufacturing. “Being able to work in sync with that allows those industries to continue to prosper but also they allow them to source the students that we put out and the technology that we look to develop.”

From more than 650 initial proposals, UofL’s Speed School is a finalist in a U.S. Department of Commerce grant for a three-year program to establish a regional ecosystem around additive manufacturing. The proposal went out in June 2020. “If that were to come into play, it would give an opportunity to rally industry to the table,” said Atre.

Grant said that in moving AMIST forward, he wanted to emphasize the exceptional talents in the core training facility. “Ed Tackett, Tim Gornet and Gary Graf have the brains and capability to do what we’re talking about doing. They’re very well-connected, understand how it all works, and are already involved in most of it. We have the opportunity to give direction and expand on what they’re doing.”

Atre said he believes that the key to AMIST’s success will be that they have both the ground game and the path forward.

“If this can be a trillion-dollar opportunity, why couldn’t Louisville, with all its capabilities, have a billion dollar economic footprint in the next decade? asked Atre. “That is the challenge I see we can work towards. Something exciting can happen to UofL and the time is right to do something like this.

What we have at AMIST as a core group that causes all this to gravitate together and to move forward, is that intrinsic passion from different perspectives – it’s that energy we’re hoping to tap into.”