More than ever, the Air Force and manufacturers share a common concern: Materials.
Are there hidden flaws in an airplane component? Is it strong enough? Can it be made lighter? Can it be produced less expensively?
From Wright-Patterson Air Force Base to the University of Dayton to small machine shops across Dayton, working with materials is an enduring concern in an era where efficiency and weight matter.
That’s where Beavercreek defense contractor UES Inc. thinks its new product comes in.
Founded in 1973, UES has been involved with research and development in both directions: Licensing Air Force technologies for commercial use and inventing new technologies for the Air Force.
Now, the company says it has devised a machine that analyses materials quickly in a “reverse 3-D printing process,” performing in minutes tasks that take months by hand.
The machine, named “Robo-Met,” will be unveiled in a June 6 event at the company’s three-building campus off Dayton-Xenia Road.
Guests from industry and the military are invited to take part in an informal focus group for brainstorming and information-sharing. (Those interested can learn more at https://www.ues.com/rm-industry-focus-group.)
Discovering hidden weaknesses in a metal part can take weeks of hand-grinding, polishing and painstaking analysis, said Veeraraghavan Sundar, UES technical marketing manager.
The automated Robo-Met machine can perform the same work in hours.
If additive manufacturing, often called “3-D printing,” can be thought of as a “factory in a box,” then Robo-Met may be seen as reverse-engineering in a box, Sundar said.
“You have to take material, polish it by hand, look at it under a microscope, go back, polish it again,” Sundar said. “It takes a lot of time and manpower to do that. But if you have a system that does robotically, that automates the process.”
It’s not just greater speed. It’s greater insights, said Nina Joshi, UES president and chief executive.
Robo-Met offers detailed 3-D interior computer imaging that offers a look at what’s happening within materials, Joshi said.
“When you’re looking at materials in general, one of the things you really want to understand is the micro-structure of material,” the CEO said. “And that’s usually done in 2-D. The problem with 2-D is you just get one picture.”
That was fine was when materials were less complex.
“Now we’re finding that they’re so complex,” Joshi said. “We really want to understand them. We really want to go to predictive models.”
The Air Force Research Laboratory, based at Wright-Patterson Air Force Base, and The Ohio State University are among the first Robo-Met customers.
The machine is no small investment. If a business can’t spend up to $500,000 to buy a Robo-Met machine, UES will analyze materials for that customer as a service.
Robo-Met is just one aspect of the company’s work.
UES says it has more than $175 million in cumulative product revenue and has seen 10 new prime contracts in the past decade. Earlier this month, the Department of Defense named UES and the University of Dayton Research Institute to a $99 million contract for scientific exploration to develop materials for advanced military weapon systems and emerging applications.
To continue that work, the company needs “top talent,” and Joshi said UES has done “fairly well” bringing those employees to Beavercreek.
“If you get them here, they don’t want to leave,” she said.
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