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Mary Daffron

An experience in industry: quality control of 3-D printed plastics

As a child, Mary Daffron was always interested in math and science. She discovered engineering when she joined her high school’s FIRST Robotics team.

Mary Daffron

This summer, Mary Daffron from the University of Tennessee Knoxville interned at Techmer PM in Clinton, Tennessee. Her research helps assure quality control of 3-D printed plastics. The experience was made possible through the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy Robotics Internship Program.

“My mentors and teammates inspired and helped me to see the possibilities that come from engineering,” Daffron commented. “I feel engineering is a platform through which I can find success in life and help to better society.”

While pursuing a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Tennessee Knoxville (UTK), Daffron had the opportunity to take her studies to a higher level with the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Robotics Internship Program.

The Robotics Internship Program is an opportunity for college students and recent graduates to intern with public agencies and private companies for the continued development of the robotics technical and engineering workforce.

For 10 weeks, Daffron interned at Techmer PM of Clinton, Tennessee. She investigated quality control in additive manufacturing under the mentorship of Alan Franc, product development manager. Additive manufacturing is a method of fabricating three-dimensional (3-D) objects. It relies on plastics and fiber-filled plastics with specific properties designed for the objects being manufactured. Techmer PM is a company that supplies specialty compounds for additive manufacturing.

Daffron spent her time using 3-D printed test specimens to evaluate quality control of Techmer’s 3-D printers. The 3-D printed objects are more complex than traditional injection molds, composed of layers and inner geometry that is printed, unlike injection molds. Traditional objects use a mold in which to inject material, creating one solid piece.  Injection mold quality-testing methods are not accurate for 3-D printed objects, which require more thorough testing to ensure they are meeting Techmer PM’s standards.

During her time with the EERE program, Daffron learned about the fundamentals of plastics and quality control. She also learned how to operate and write code for a 3-D printer. “More importantly, I learned problem solving skills that helped me to overcome the challenges I found in this project and will find in the future,” she said.

Daffron’s favorite part of the program was learning from the employees at Techmer PM and seeing the excitement they had for her project and progress.

“EERE is a great program. It gives the participants opportunities to gain valuable experience and learn so much more than just how to complete their given project. I would definitely recommend this program,” Daffron said.

Daffron has returned to UTK to complete her bachelor’s degree, and she has plans to pursue a graduate degree in her field in the future. At UTK she is on the executive board of the undergraduate section of the Society of Women Engineers. She also mentors the robotics team that originally inspired her in high school.

The EERE Robotics Program is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) through the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Office’s Advanced Manufacturing Office and administered through the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for DOE by Oak Ridge Associated Universities.