Caitlin Oswald is an Additive Manufacturing Specialist at LAI International – Leading Advanced Innovations. The company is a precision contract manufacturer who has added Additive Manufacturing capability to provide parts to the Aerospace, Defense, Medical, and Energy industries. She gained her aerospace additive manufacturing credentials from her 6 years at Pratt & Whitney where she lead technical and manufacturing readiness level programs for additive manufacturing and was a project manager for various additive development programs. Caitlin has produced 3D printed components that have been used in everything from tooling, to fit-checks, to running test engines. Her role now at LAI International is focusing on bringing the technology through the necessary qualification and validation steps to get parts into flying production engines.
Thanks to her work and research on the use of Additive Manufacturing into the aeronautic industry, Caitlin received a STEP [Science Technology Engineering and Production] Award from the National Institute of Manufacturing and was also recognized by the Fast Company publication in 2015 as one of the top 100 Most Creative People in Business. We’ll talk about her vision and thoughts on how to encourage more women to join the tech and engineering field here as well.
Caitlin, could you let us know about your background and how you became involved with Additive Manufacturing?
I have a mechanical engineering degree from the University of Connecticut, which lead me to my first job at Pratt & Whitney in their component test lab. This lab was where I was first introduced to the technology because they were testing some of the components made by some of the first metal 3D printers.
What was your very first experience with 3D printing?
Once I learned more about the technology and joined the Additive Manufacturing Group at Pratt & Whitney, 3D printing became my full time job. I was focused on the Electron Beam Melting Powder Bed technology, using Titanium 6-4 material. I was amazed at how fun it was to have such a quick turnaround between the build designs to having parts in our hands in a number of days. Most engineers are used to waiting weeks, even months, before they see parts they have designed.
Not everyone if familiar with the Electron Beam Melting Powder Bed technology, could you explain this 3D printing technology process?
EBM is in the “powder bed” category of 3D printing. It basically uses an energy source from above, which melts a 2D cross section on a build table of powder below. Once one layer is melted, the build table moves down 90 microns and another layer of powder is spread across the table. The electron beam then melts the 2nd cross section, and consecutively each layer is melted on top of the prior to build up the 3D printed part.
Why using EBM in aerospace?
This process uses the Titanium 6-4 alloy, which is widely used in aerospace due to its strength and weight characteristics, which makes it a natural fit for 3D printing. The process prints parts faster than some of the other laser powder bed techniques, and in addition there is in-situ heat treatment which reduces the need for post stress relief, as well as gains the ability to utilize the entire build area to nest many production parts into one build.
What are the main challenges you facing when using Additive Manufacturing?
Many times we run into customers who lack an understanding of design for additive manufacturing principles. Because of this, we have introduced Additive Manufacturing Training modules (from novice to expert) to help with design for additive, choosing the right parts, creating the best business cases, etc. When we partner with companies on a solid educational foundation, we have great success in reaching quality parts.
Any specific challenges faced internally when introducing the technology?
The technology is still new compared to the conventional subtractive methods, and because of this there are challenges that have risen both technically and culturally. There is a significant amount of technical work to do to prove material and manufacturing quality and consistency, and in addition education needs to be used from the manufacturing floor to the executive teams to realize additive is a value added technology that still needs the background engineering due diligence to succeed.
Is the use of Additive Manufacturing frequent in the aeronautics industry?
The frequency of AM in aerospace is steadily increasing as more parts are identified and redesigned to take advantage of the technology. In addition, companies are beginning to have a good database of material properties to rely on the performance characteristics of the parts. As the amount of case studies grow, so will the frequency of use.
On a more global level, what do you think of the 3D printing industry today?
I think the metal 3D printing industry is starting to drive to consistency. As we see the industry committees start to create specifications, more quality requirements will be driven into all of the service bureaus wanting to supply aerospace quality parts. The expectations on quality and process are starting to flow from places like the FAA, Department of Defense, and the Aerospace OEM’s which all are in agreement on how crucial it is to have a qualified additive manufacturing process.
In your opinion, how could we encourage more women to become involved with 3D printing?
I think the consumer/desktop 3D printing industry is helping encourage more women to become involved. I am a strong advocate of promoting girls to explore STEM at a young age. When I see middle schools and high schools with 3D printers letting girls discover if they see a passion for the technology, it not only encourages them into 3D printing, but math and science in general.
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