Research News

UB funds five advanced manufacturing projects

SMART directors, from left to right, Kemper Lewis, Omar Khan and Kenneth English. Photo: Douglas Levere

By CORY NEALON

Published August 1, 2016

Turning laundry lint and other waste fibers into commercial products. 3-D printing electronics. Finding an elegant, yet effective way to make buildings energy efficient.

Those are just some of the goals outlined in five research projects funded by UB’s Community of Excellence in Sustainable Manufacturing and Advanced Robotic Technologies (SMART).

The projects, which will split $100,000 in seed grants, are the first supported by SMART, an interdisciplinary community of UB researchers dedicated to research on advanced manufacturing and design.

“These projects meet the goals of SMART, which include innovative 3-D printing technologies, reducing waste in consumer products, developing methods to construct buildings that last longer and are more sustainable, and exploring how robotic technologies can be used on construction sites to improve efficiency, accuracy and safety,” says Kemper Lewis, professor of mechanical and aerospace engineering, and SMART’s director.

SMART is one of UB’s three Communities of Excellence. The $9 million Communities of Excellence initiative harnesses the strengths of faculty and staff from fields across the university to confront the challenges facing humankind through research, education and engagement. Along with Lewis, SMART is led by Omar Khan, associate professor of architecture, and Kenneth English, deputy director of SMART.

The funded projects:

3-D printed electronics

This project will explore the viability of printing electronics with modified 3-D printers in lieu of traditional fabrication processes. Specifically, researchers will test a novel advanced manufacturing technique called elastomeric balloon transfer printing, which uses 3-D printing technology and 3-D curved sensors known as conformal sensors.

If successful, the method could lead to new types of electronic devices and systems in biomedical devices, telecommunication, wearable electronics and more.

Faculty involved are Rahul Rai, associate professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering; Jongmin Shim, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering; Amjad Aref, professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering; and Gary Dargush, professor in the Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering.

Turning waste fibers into products

This project will explore how waste fibers ranging from laundry lint to organic waste such as leaves and grass can be used to create thin-shelled structures known as monocoque structures (egg shells are an example).

Specifically, researchers will analyze the raw materials, cast them and measure their structural and architectural properties, and determine their commercial potential. Georgia-Pacific, an Atlanta-based pulp and paper company with operations in Batavia, New York, generously supplied materials in Spring 2016 for a first phase of this investigation, which was done with a group of senior-level architecture students.

Faculty involved: Stephanie Davidson, clinical assistant professor in the Department of Architecture; and Jongmin Shim, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering.

Elegant energy-efficient buildings

In the United States, buildings account for nearly 40 percent of the nation’s carbon dioxide emissions. This project aims to reduce that number by integrating light-sensitive polymer sheets — dubbed a Zero Energy Adaptive Façade (ZEAF) — into building exteriors. These origami-inspired sheets, which mimic light and shade created by deciduous trees in forests, look inspiring while controlling the amount of sunlight that enters a building.

Researchers anticipate the ZEAF approach will be relatively inexpensive and offer a high degree of design flexibility to make existing buildings energy efficient.

Faculty involved are Haiqing Lin, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering; Jin Young Song, assistant professor in the Department of Architecture; and Jongmin Shim, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering.

Next-generation energy storage

This project involves refining a method to 3-D print graphene-based supercapacitors. If successful, the new technique could revolutionize the energy storage industry.

Today’s power control systems rely on conductors, transformers and other bulky infrastructure. The setup works, but with the demand for energy growing and the omnipresent goal of energy efficiency, industries are seeking new alternatives.

One option involves using graphene, which has become the material of choice for researchers working to improve everything from solar cells to smartphone batteries.

Faculty involved are Chi Zhou, assistant professor in the Department of Industrial and Systems Engineering, and Gang Wu, assistant professor in the Department of Chemical and Biological Engineering.

Shifted centre of gravity corbelled blocks (photo: G.Rafailidis) 

Simple structures that last

Some of the oldest known buildings constructed by humans are dry-stacked, corbelled structures. These structures, which do not require mortar, fasteners, reinforcement or frequent repair, are well suited for assembly by robots since they require precise placement in complex geometries. Plus, the lack of fasteners and mortar makes recycling the building materials much easier.

In this project, researchers will develop contemporary prototypes of corbelled structures.

Faculty involved are Georg Rafailidis, assistant professor in the Department of Architecture; Nils Napp, assistant professor in the Department of Computer Science and Engineering; and Andreas Stavridis, assistant professor in the Department of Civil, Structural and Environmental Engineering.