Alliance for Iowa State
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A high tech machine in the basement of Iowa State University's Sukup Hall is helping to redesign the ways Iowa manufacturers make things.

"With this, the design rules are broken," said Jack Ward, a program manager with Quatro Composites of Orange City, Iowa. "Now, I can go do all kinds of crazy stuff, and I can actually build it. Because I can print it, I can do stuff that I couldn't actually do before."

The machine is a laser sintering system, more commonly called a metal 3-D printer. It was purchased by Iowa State's Center for Industrial Research and Service (CIRAS) last fall as part of a $900,000 investment in technology that CIRAS believes is poised to save Iowa manufacturers time and money. CIRAS has been working with companies since October on projects designed to test the technology's limits and explore its application in Iowa industry.

There is no shortage of interest. After national media picked up coverage of a February ribbon-cutting, CIRAS fielded phone calls about the machine from curious businesses in 11 states.

"This is a game changer," CIRAS Director Ron Cox said during one media interview. "It allows you to design new products, new ways of doing things."

The machine uses powdered metal and a laser, essentially welding the dust into shapes detailed by a complicated computerized design. Constructing one 40-micron-thick layer at a time, it can produce any metal object that will fit into a build envelope that's slightly smaller than 10x10x12 inches.

The technology soon will enable manufacturers to produce complex geometries that aren't now possible using traditional production methods - and to make things more quickly, using less material.

CIRAS believes helping companies experiment and test the boundaries of additive manufacturing will position Iowa to make maximum advantage of a coming wave of change. It's all part of an ongoing mission CIRAS has had since 1963 - to advance Iowa communities by making their businesses better.

"Is this technology ready for everyday use? No," summarizes Chris Hill, head of CIRAS' Technology Assistance Program. "But if I as a manufacturer can start getting educated now, then I kind of know what I can do with it. And when the technology gets a little better, then I can take advantage of it while my competitors are still thinking, 'OK, now I need to start learning about this...' "

Chris Hill displays a variety of test pieces 
produced with CIRAS' new metal 3-D printer.
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The Alliance for Iowa State is a coalition of Iowa State alumni, parents, students, faculty, staff, and friends.
The Alliance advocates Iowa State University's land grant mission throughout Iowa
while focusing its advocacy on state legislators and public policy makers.

The Alliance for Iowa State is maintained by the Iowa State University Alumni Association.