Manufacturing & Prototyping

3D-Printed Power Inverter Enables Lighter Electric Vehicles

Using 3D printing and novel semiconductors, researchers at the Department of Energy’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory have created a power inverter that could make electric vehicles lighter, more powerful, and more efficient.At the core of this development is wide bandgap material made of silicon carbide, with qualities superior to standard semiconductor materials. Power inverters convert direct current into the alternating current that powers the vehicle. The Oak Ridge inverter achieves much higher power density with a significant reduction in weight and volume.Using additive manufacturing, researchers optimized the inverter’s heat sink, allowing for better heat transfer throughout the unit. This construction technique allowed them to place lower-temperature components close to the high-temperature devices, further reducing the electrical losses and reducing the volume and mass of the package.The research group’s first prototype, a liquid-cooled all-silicon carbide traction drive inverter, features 50-percent-printed parts. Initial evaluations confirmed an efficiency of nearly 99 percent, surpassing DOE’s power electronics target and setting the stage for building an inverter using entirely additive manufacturing techniques.Building on the success of this prototype, researchers are working on an inverter with an even greater percentage of 3D-printed parts in commercially available vehicles. SourceAlso: See other Electronics tech briefs.

Posted in: Manufacturing & Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Transportation, Automotive, Semiconductors & ICs, News

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Underwater Robot Skims for Port Security

MIT researchers unveiled an oval-shaped submersible robot, a little smaller than a football, with a flattened panel on one side that it can slide along an underwater surface to perform ultrasound scans.Originally designed to look for cracks in nuclear reactors’ water tanks, the robot could also inspect ships for the false hulls and propeller shafts that smugglers frequently use to hide contraband. Because of its small size and unique propulsion mechanism — which leaves no visible wake — the robots could, in theory, be concealed in clumps of algae or other camouflage. Fleets of them could swarm over ships at port without alerting smugglers and giving them the chance to jettison their cargo.Sampriti Bhattacharyya, a graduate student in mechanical engineering, built the main structural components of the robot using a 3-D printer. Half of the robot — the half with the flattened panel — is waterproof and houses the electronics. The other half is permeable and houses the propulsion system, which consists of six pumps that expel water through rubber tubes.Two of those tubes vent on the side of the robot opposite the flattened panel, so they can keep it pressed against whatever surface the robot is inspecting. The other four tubes vent in pairs at opposite ends of the robot’s long axis and control its locomotion.SourceAlso: Learn about Underwater Localization for Transit and Reconnaissance Autonomy.

Posted in: Imaging, Manufacturing & Prototyping, Rapid Prototyping & Tooling, Motion Control, Power Transmission, Machinery & Automation, Robotics, News

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Multi-Step DRIE Process to Fabricate Silicon-Based THz Components

Commercial applications include airport screening systems, explosives detectors, nondestructive testing, and wireless communications. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California Terahertz (THz) frequency radiometers, spectrometers, and radars are promising instruments for the remote sensing of planetary atmospheres such as Mars, Venus, Jupiter, and Saturn, and their moons such as Titan, Europa, Ganymede, and others. For these long-term planetary missions, severe constraints are put on the mass and power budget for the payload instruments.

Posted in: Manufacturing & Prototyping, Briefs, TSP

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Plasma Reduction of Lunar Regolith for In-Space Fabrication

Plasma processing effectively produced agglutinate and glassy spherules — analog particles similar to those found on the lunar surface. Marshall Space Flight Center, Alabama The in situ production of vital gases and raw materials on the lunar surface is an integral part of NASA’s exploration vision. Development of processes for extraction of oxygen and metallics from the lunar regolith will be vital not only for life support on the lunar surface, but also for spacecraft propulsion to travel further beyond low Earth orbit. This will have a direct impact on cost reduction associated with minimizing the raw material mass from Earth. Aside from utilization of in situ resources, one of the significant limitations of current simulant is the lack of constituents, such as agglutinates. These agglutinates are typically mineral fragments of the lunar regolith that are held together by glass and, depending on location, may constitute 60% to 70% of the lunar regolith.

Posted in: Manufacturing & Prototyping, Briefs

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Method for Determining Self-Reacting Friction Stir Weld Schedules

This new process is quicker and more effective. Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas This invention establishes a process to define a viable self-reacting friction stir weld (SR-FSW) schedule (parameter settings) for a given material combination. The focus of this process results in a SR-FSW schedule that is insensitive to intentional changes or normal process variation in pin force at a given rotation and travel speed. Viable is defined as a weld schedule that is usable in a production environment and is able to accommodate normal production variations.

Posted in: Manufacturing & Prototyping, Briefs

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Flexible, Lightweight Vacuum Shell for Load-Responsive Multilayer Insulation for High Thermal Performance

There are substantial reductions in weight and improvements in performance. Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland Better thermal insulation is needed to insulate cryogenic propellants used by NASA for launch vehicles, spacecraft, and orbiting fuel depots. In particular, cryotank insulation during in-air pre-launch and launch ascent stages currently uses spray-on foam insulation (SOFI), which is extremely problematic.

Posted in: Manufacturing & Prototyping, Briefs, TSP

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Bulk Separation and Manipulation of Carbon Nanotubes by Type

Lyndon B. Johnson Space Center, Houston, Texas The utility of this invention is to extract metals (semi-metals) or semiconductors from bulk nanotube samples. The bulk material is a mixture of the two. These materials can then be used to clone a particular type of nanotube, place a particular type in a device, generate smart materials, or make sensing elements.

Posted in: Manufacturing & Prototyping, Briefs

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