UWaterloo partnership helps company become experts in a niche market

Project Summary

Expanse Microtechnologies Inc. (Expanse) provides customized 3D x-ray computed tomography (CT) solutions to the additive manufacturing (AM) industry by bridging the gap between the complexity of CT data and the unique challenges in AM product and process development. This niche expertise blossomed from a close relationship with the Multi-Scale Additive Manufacturing (MSAM) group at the University of Waterloo (UWaterloo), where Expanse personnel provided training and analysis to MSAM in return for equipment usage and AM knowledge transfer.

“MSAM provided our team with encouragement and knowledge, helping us to become experts in a niche market while growing our business and capabilities.”

-James Hinebaugh, Ph.D., President, Expanse Microtechnologies Inc.

Partner

Expanse is an Ontario-based, virtually-operated company that provides customized material characterization services to the advanced materials and additive manufacturing (AM) industries, including medical, aerospace and automotive clients. Expanse was founded in 2016 as a result of a highly productive relationship with MSAM. The founders had significant experience with x-ray CT equipment, image processing and data analysis, and MSAM had a need for advanced analytical capabilities of their AM parts and materials. Expanse uses CT imaging and advanced data analytics to determine the properties of feedstock powders (e.g., porosity, morphology and distribution of particles and pores) and printed parts (e.g., surface texture, wall thickness, pore size and location, and dimensional metrology). Expanse also works with composite materials and developed a fiber isolation algorithm for use in advanced materials science. These critical analyses allow clients to leverage their equipment to improve products and processes. An example of the synergy between MSAM and Expanse is illustrated in the powder and product analytics developed by Expanse by leveraging competencies and equipment in the MSAM portfolio.

Expanse Microtechnologies Inc. had an impressive transition from research collaborators to a successful start-up, while maintaining an excellent working relationship with UW. MSAM looks forward to continued collaboration as we expand our industrial R&D work.”

-Mihaela Vlasea. Ph.D., Associate Research Director and Assistant Professor, Multi-Scale Additive Manufacturing Lab, University of WaterlooMulti-Scale Additive Manufacturing

Challenge

MSAM nano-CT equipment

X-Ray CT is a non-destructive AM measurement tool that is well-recognized for its ability to illustrate voids and complex shapes not reliably measured with traditional methods. However, the complexity of CT machine operation and the detailed analysis of the resulting imagery are often barriers to AM researchers and not easily incorporated into product development. Similarly, CT machine experts are unfamiliar with the particular challenges and intricacies of AM materials and products. Prior to Expanse, there was no organization in Canada with the unique combination of advanced CT experience and AM knowledge. This competency gap was identified as a necessary hurdle to overcome so AM researchers and industry users could get the most value from their equipment.

Solution

The founders of Expanse developed an image processing algorithm to extract measurements from CT data that are most relevant to AM. Through collaboration with MSAM researchers, the algorithm was refined to address the quality and consistency of feedstock materials, AM equipment, and printed products.

Expanse trained MSAM researchers on CT equipment usage and provided valuable data analytics for MSAM projects. In return, MSAM provided Expanse with not only equipment access, but also invaluable AM knowledge and experience.

Expanse Microtechnologies analytical capabilities

Impact

The knowledge exchange between Expanse and MSAM became a symbiotic relationship. As Expanse’s expertise and client base grew, MSAM leveraged their competency to become increasingly independent in CT use. Further, the collaboration provided enhanced data analytics to both teams that optimized part quality, equipment usage and research results, while Expanse continued to carve out a market niche.

Expanse grew from two employees in 2016 to six employees in 2018. They have developed prototypes with intricate AM features (e.g., overhangs, thin walls, intricate geometries) for prospective client demonstration. MSAM and Expanse continue to support each other in the integration of CT and advanced data analytics for optimizing AM products and processes.

Future

Expanse expects to double its revenue in 2019 and increase staff by up to 50%. The company is working toward acquiring an Ontario-based facility with equipment complementary to MSAM’s, which will allow continued collaboration and growth.


UWaterloo's collaborative research with ODG brings growth and new technology

Project Summary

The Precision Controls Laboratory at the University of Waterloo (UWaterloo), part of WatCAR Manufacturing, brings Industry 4.0 to life in conquering the complexity of gear manufacturing with an automated, virtual simulation tool that uses intelligent algorithms to optimize the machining of gears. UWaterloo developed virtual modelling software as a result of collaborative research with Ontario Drive & Gear (ODG) to increase production efficiency, improve gear quality, and reduce production costs, by eliminating much of the manual effort involved with traditional process development and quality control.

Gear examples from ODG.

“The impact of our work with the Precision Controls Laboratory at UWaterloo has significantly increased productivity and decreased costs by enhancing the capabilities of ODG engineers.”

– Liam Tiernan, General Manager and Vice President, Gear Division, Ontario Drive & Gear

Partner

Ontario Drive & GearFounded in 1962, ODG operates from three facilities in New Hamburg, Ontario with 150,000 sq. ft. of manufacturing space. ODG designs, manufactures, assembles and tests over 1,000 unique gear and transmission products. Their diverse client base includes industrial, military, forestry, oil & gas, agricultural, automotive, and more. ODG has reported measurable productivity improvements and business growth as a direct result of collaboration with UW researchers.

Challenge

The traditional approach to process development and quality control in gear manufacturing relies on technician experience, trial and error, and practical recommendations. These methods are expensive, tedious, and can also result in sub-optimal process parameters, wasted machine time and materials, or sometimes damage to tooling.

To overcome this challenge, UWaterloo researchers developed a virtual simulation of the physics of gear manufacturing, through in-depth mathematical analysis and intelligent algorithms, to represent the complex gear cutting mechanics, dynamic interactions between the CNC control system, the tooling and the workpiece. This enables process metrics and quality prediction to be achieved for ‘virtually machined’ gears.

Solution

A unique virtual machining program was developed and licensed by UWaterloo as a result of this collaborative research. The program requires input of dimensions, materials, tooling, machine/process parameters to employ a holistic approach to modelling the kinematics and dynamics of gear shaping. Process simulation and quality control in a virtual environment enables numerous iterations to optimize performance without wasting machine time and materials.

The software generates data and associated graphics that illustrate flaws and opportunities for optimization, and the integrated metrology allows the majority of the quality control to occur in a virtual simulation, thereby reducing process development time and cost.

In this successful technology transfer, UWaterloo researchers deployed the software at ODG, trained engineers and process developers on-site, and offer continued training support for current applications and future collaborative research.

Impact

ODG engineers and process developers were trained on-site by the UWaterloo team, resulting in successful technology transfer to fill the gap between scientific research and productivity on the shop floor.

ODG reported up to 24% production improvement for high-volume gear production for major Canadian customers, including a forestry equipment producer and a Tier 1 automotive supplier.

The reduction in production cycle times freed up machine capacity to grow the existing business and develop new customer relationships. This business growth has translated to a proportionate increase in shifts and hiring new manufacturing, quality control and support staff.

Future

UWaterloo and ODG continue to collaborate on optimizing a broad suite of gear manufacturing operations (e.g., hobbing and power skiving), which is expected to result in additional cost savings, production efficiencies, improved part performance and business growth.

UWaterloo retains the software licensing and is eager to expand to new industry partners.