YSU Awarded Largest Research Grant in Its History

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Youngstown State University’s $4 million share of $10.8 million in funding awarded to America Makes to advance additive manufacturing technology makes it the largest single research grant in the history of the university, officials said Monday.

“It’s a big deal,” said Brett Conner, director of advanced manufacturing workforce initiatives at YSU, shortly after a news conference to announce the grant. “It’s the largest award we’ve ever had at YSU.”

U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, D-13 Ohio, YSU President Jim Tressel, Ralph Resnick, founding director of American Makes and John Leland, executive director of the University of Dayton Research Institute, made the announcement Monday morning at YSU’s Center for Innovation in Additive Manufacturing in Moser Hall.

The money will be used to accelerate research in additive manufacturing to serve the U.S. Air Force. Youngstown-based America Makes will award $8 million in funding from the Air Force Research Laboratory to the project, while partners in the project would provide matching funds of $2.8 million.

“When you start to put things on an aircraft, you have to absolutely sure they’re not going to break,” said the University of Dayton’s Leland, lead investigator for the project.

Leland said one of the challenges that the Air Force faces today is procuring materials and parts for its fleet of antiquated aircraft. One solution is manufacturing these parts through additive manufacturing, or 3-D printing.

However, additive manufacturing technology is not proficient enough to manufacture components or parts that meet Air Force standards, Leland says. “There’s a big gap between where additive manufacturing technology is and where it needs to be to put replacement parts on aircraft, especially those that are flight-critical,” he said.

Additive manufacturing is a process that uses 3-D printing technology to build a product or component from various materials from the ground up. Parts are digitally rendered and transmitted to 3-D printers that create the actual component.

The premise behind the Air Force program is to accelerate development of this technology so it could one day be used in the field or on an aircraft carrier to print tooling or parts for aircraft, Leland says. As it stands, it can take weeks to find replacement parts for older aircraft or to manufacture a custom component.

However, a 3-D printer is capable of manufacturing that part on-site directly from a computer file, so there’s no need to search for the missing component. “There are some design changes that need to be made to take a traditionally manufactured item and turn it into something that would be additively manufactured and put on an aircraft,” Leland said.

Another part of the program is to develop inspection and testing technologies that ensure there are no flaws in the component that could not be detected visually, Leland says. “The goal is to first get this equipment to the major maintenance depots for the Air Force,” he said. “Ultimately, it’s to get these machines out in the field.”

Developing this technology is a potential solution for the 910th Airlift Wing at the Youngstown Air Reserve Base in Vienna, notes its commander, Col. James Dignan. The 910th is the Department of Defense’s only aerial spray mission, and the commander said it’s often difficult to find parts for spray equipment in its aging fleet of C-130 aircraft.

“There are no parts in the supply system,” Dignan said. “So if we could find a way to produce those parts on the flight line and install it on the system, it will reduce that timeline if a part breaks.”

The challenge is making sure these parts can meet rigid quality standards of the Air Force, Dignan said, noting that as of today the 910th hasn’t used any 3-D parts in its aircraft.

YSU’s Conner says the university’s share of the grant opens up a variety of opportunities for students, faculty and related companies. “We have 11 students working on this project, which gives them the opportunities to work with aerospace companies, local industry, national research centers and the U.S. Air Force,” he says.

An important component of the program is engaging private industry in the effort, Conner said. “The industrial base for U.S. aerospace maintenance and sustainment runs through small and medium businesses,” he said. “We’re trying to help small and medium businesses adopt this technology to participate in that industrial base.”

Among the private partners in the project are M-7 Technologies in Youngstown, Humtown Products in Columbiana, and Slice Manufacturing in Akron. Other partners are the Youngstown Business Incubator, Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Penn State University and University of Northern Iowa.

“It’s a large partnership that’s largely Ohio-based,” Conner noted.

Ryan said this collaboration will allow companies and students in the region companies to have access to some of the best equipment in the world.

“That means more students that want to come to Youngstown State, that means more businesses around here can grow and evolve,” Ryan said. “It’s big for Youngstown for a lot of different reasons because Youngstown State is distinguishing itself from around the world.”

Ryan, who sits on the defense subcommittee on the House Appropriations Committee, said that additive manufacturing technology is likely to increase by 25% a year over the next 10 years. “That means our young kids will have an opportunity to stay here,” he stated.

Tressel emphasized that students will have the opportunity to work with nearby companies while the university would work closely with the 910th.

“Our students and faculty will partner with small manufacturers in our community such as M-7 Technologies, Humtown Products and Slice Manufacturing,” he said.

America Makes’ Resnick reminded the audience that it was four years ago when officials announced in Youngstown the establishment of the organization, the first of the Obama administration’s manufacturing innovation institutes.

“Since then, we’ve been blazing the trail and setting the standard for this new model of public/private partnership,” he said. “We’re all establishing Youngstown, the Mahoning Valley and the Tech Belt as the Silicon Valley of additive manufacturing.”

Pictured: America Makes’ Ralph Resnick addresses press event.

Copyright 2023 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.