For nearly 30 years, scientists have been 3-D printing objects at a high cost and slow rate. As a part of the GEM Fellowship program, a partnership between the National Consortium for Graduate Engineering Degrees for Minorities and Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), mechanical engineering student, Abisola C. Kusimo, has been working to advance the process of additive manufacturing, a term used to describe the industrial version of 3-D printing, while minimizing cost and production time.
“Imagine being able to turn wasted coconut husks into needed furniture and infrastructure around the world,” Kusimo said. “I see great potential in reducing the cost of additive manufacturing while also helping create circular economies and empower people.”
These thoughts led Kusimo to apply for the National GEM Consortium Program, which provides minority students opportunities to experience STEM-related research in national laboratory settings. The GEM Program at ORNL is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education, a U.S. Department of Energy institute managed by ORAU. Kusimo is currently pursuing her master’s degree at Stanford University.
At ORNL, Kusimo has been conducting research at the Manufacturing Demonstration Facility with her mentor, Dr. Lonnie Love.
“Additive manufacturing is currently under-utilized because of its large cost, and we are working to bring the cost down and also make it more competitive and complementary with traditional manufacturing techniques,” Kusimo explained.
A typical day for Kusimo involves researching previous experiments, writing papers and printing designs to test her hypothesis. Eventually, she will design and print a 20-foot-long truss bridge on the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine to test its ability to produce structural components.
“It currently costs $1000 per pound to 3-D print a part, (but) BAAM technology has been able to shrink that cost to $10 per pound,” Kusimo said.
Before starting as a research participant, Kusimo was unaware of how little was known about the technology, a fact that has added to her overall experience. With the potential for new discoveries, each day brings Kusimo excitement.
“My research hopes to make additive manufacturing a larger part of global manufacturing,” Kusimo said. “Currently it only makes 0.03 percent of the market, and we believe that this technology could be more disruptive and open us to a new way of building things that are more sustainable, cost effective and accessible to all.”
Ultimately, Kusimo hopes that her research will impact the world of manufacturing on a large scale.
“We are looking to create a world where it takes longer to ship a part than it does to make it—revolutionizing the way we create products,” Kusimo explained.
Kusimo’s research was selected from the ORNL GEM students to attend the Annual GEM Conference in Miami. She placed third in the master’s category of the National Technical Presentation Competition.
After the research program, Kusimo will return to school to finish her master’s degree and begin applying for mechanical engineering Ph.D. programs focused on Design and Manufacturing in Highly Constrained Environments. Enhancing her knowledge in this area will allow her to further her research project.
“Constantly being on the brink of something so cutting edge and groundbreaking is exciting!” Kusimo said. “I had no idea that this kind of work was happening every day in national laboratories, but it has certainly expanded my thinking for the job possibilities of a Ph.D.”