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Langley Technology Attracts New NASA Partnerships
10.19.11
 
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Engineers at NASA's Langley Research Center developed the Electron Beam Freeform Fabrication, or EBF3, a process that uses an electron beam gun, a dual wire feed and computer controls to manufacture metallic structures for building parts or tools in hours, building one layer at a time.
By: Denise Lineberry

Two weeks ago, ideas for advancement, research and partnerships with NASA floated around the Hampton Convention Center during an Electronic Beam Freeform Fabrication (EBF3) forum.

On October 13, those ideas from one-on-one discussions with members of the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and NASA took flight during a visit to NASA’s Langley Research Center.

The NASA Langley-developed EBF3 technology offers production of high-performance metal components by building layer by layer according to computer-aided design model, resulting in a 3-D structural part that does not require a mold.

The rapid manufacturing process of parts interested Bryant Walker, president of Keystone, whose facility in Connecticut uses fabrication technology for manufacturing. Walker was looking to Langley as subject matter experts in the EBF3 technology as a source to do process development, research and EBF3 demonstrations on a Space Act Agreement with NASA in support of his NAVAIR Small Business Innovation Research.

"This partnership allows us to move technology into production," said Walker who is seeking an algorithm to make low-volume titanium parts quickly.

Cindi Lach, a materials research engineer at Langley, and Laurie Roberts of Langley's Aeronautics Research Directorate developed a Space Act Agreement between Keystone and NASA. Through the agreement, NASA will deposit simple geometric parts and data feedback, with Keystone providing parameters, materials and evaluations.

EBF3 demonstrations.
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During a visit to NASA Langley, members of the Office of Naval Research (ONR), the Naval Air Systems Command (NAVAIR) and the president of Keystone talked with Langley engineers and a technician during an Electronic Beam Freeform Fabrication (EBF3) Space Act Agreement demonstration. Credit: NASA/Sean Smith

The agenda of the visit was two-fold: to review a Space Act Agreement (SAA) between NASA Langley and Keystone and to focus on the needs of ONR/NAVAIR for a potential umbrella agreement to collaborate with Langley.

It was a day of give and take as part of the process that helps meet a call from Lesa Roe, Langley's center director, and Steve Jurczyk, deputy director, to pursue partnerships as a way to deal with budget constraints.

Lach kept that call in mind while planning the Langley visit. She followed through with hopes of increasing the amount of reimbursable work through new research opportunities and partnerships.

So did Charlie Harris, head of Langley's Research Directorate, who introduced Mike Fremaux, head of the Flight Dynamics Branch, to the group. Fremaux has been asked to play a lead role at the center for facilitating partnerships with the Navy.

Malinda Pagett, Air Vehicles Future Naval Capabilities Program manager from the Office of Naval Research (ONR), saw a partnership with NASA as potential to leverage the Navy's capabilities. She directly funds the ONR's Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR).

"Our main focus for aircraft is readiness. We have to be able to sustain the aircraft. If a wing spar breaks, we have to do research and try to qualify buying new parts. The EBF3 could solve that issue by making the parts that are needed," Pagett explained.

The ONR's need for sea material differs from aircraft material. Pagett expressed an interest in using electron beams to manufacture aluminum and Inconel [alloy] products. "We haven’t done it yet, but our NASA partners have," she said.

With Pagett was Howard McCauley, an advisor to the Office of Naval Research Global Science, who spoke of naval fleet technology requirements while Pagett discussed ONR air platforms safety and affordability of technology. The efforts in ONR and NAVAIR research and development parallel those of NASA, though the Navy works within a shorter time frame.

Karen Taminger, a materials engineer at Langley, explained the directions and applications of the EBF3 technology, which often has been used in aerospace to fabricate titanium parts for military jets, for rapid production of legacy military parts and for parts repair. During a demonstration, three titanium cylinders in different diameters and some straight wall builds were created.

"These are your requirements [for the Space Act Agreement]," Taminger told the group. "I want you to have access to the technology and the technician."

A Friday meeting resulted in a preliminary Space Act Agreement umbrella being drafted between NASA Langley and the Navy.