Nearly a year after walking the grounds of Kandahar Airfield, Afghanistan, on active duty, U.S. Navy construction mechanic 2nd class Matthew Sallas embarked on an internship that laid the groundwork for a lifelong career. No longer would his passion for machinery and design be relegated to his hobby of rebuilding motorcycles alone. As a participant in the Laboratory Technology Program at Oak Ridge National Laboratory (ORNL), Sallas is learning critical advanced manufacturing techniques he hopes will transform him into a successful mechanical engineer.

ORNL Technician Profile: Matthew Sallas

In the Laboratory Technology Program at ORNL, Matthew Sallas supports research for various materials that might become durable, low-cost alternatives to acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS, the material currently used in 3-D printing.

When Sallas first returned from his tour of duty in Afghanistan, he participated in a six-week Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Advanced Manufacturing Internship at ORNL. This internship was arranged through Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE), a contract administered by ORAU for the Department of Energy (DOE). The EERE program was designed with veterans in mind, and provides them accelerated, hands-on career training they can use to enter the workforce in advanced manufacturing.

During his time at ORNL, Sallas heard about the Laboratory Technology Program, another ORAU-administered program designed to prepare recent or current students or those with relevant skillsets for a career in the technical workforce. Sallas applied and was hired on full-time at ORNL, based on his skillset alone.

“I don’t have any type of degree as of now,” said Sallas, who is pursuing a degree in manufacturing engineering from Pellissippi State Community College. “Everything I have learned and earned I have done by working hard. You don’t have to be book smart to get a job you love. But, it is always a plus.”

At ORNL, Sallas is involved in the field of large-scale additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3-D printing. He spends his days characterizing new materials that might be able to replace acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, or ABS, the material currently used for 3-D printing. ABS is a widely used, low-cost plastic known for its stiffness and strength, which scientists have reinforced with 20 percent carbon fiber to increase its stiffness and strength. Even so, researchers are hunting for materials even stronger than reinforced ABS that can withstand higher temperatures.

The purpose of Sallas’ technical support is “to test the limits of additive manufacturing,” he explained. “Recently, we have been doing more testing with higher temperature materials that are closer to the strength of aluminum.”

Sallas spends his days designing and printing parts using the test materials under the mentorship of Dr. Lonnie Love at DOE’s Manufacturing Demonstration Facility. In 2015, the facility made history when it manufactured the world’s first 3-D printed Shelby Cobra car. It is this opportunity to be in a cutting-edge field that Sallas loves most about participating in the Lab Tech program.

“I operate one of the world’s largest 3-D printers, the Big Area Additive Manufacturing (BAAM) machine,” he said. “I do things that no one else knows how to do.”

Sallas helped print the parts for the Cobra, which weighs 1,900 pounds total, approximately half that of the 1960’s original. He monitored the settings on the BAAM to ensure the parts were printing correctly and then sanded, bolted and mounted some of the parts onto the vehicle.

Sallas has gained skills in CAD design, programming, electrical engineering, mechanical engineering and heavy equipment operation. He recommends the program highly to anyone interested in supplementing their academic studies with tangible, real-world experience. 

“It’s a great program. Great people are involved,” he said. “It gives you a chance to learn a lot while going to school and getting some hands-on training. My advice to others is to work hard and set your goals high. Don’t stop until you exceed them.”