With Sturdy Helmet Design, UA Students Win Metalcasting Contest
TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — For the second year in a row, a team of University of Alabama engineering students won the Student Casting Competition for the Southeast organized by the American Foundry Society.
By designing and casting a helmet for soldiers, the students were exposed to leading-edge metallurgical-engineering technology.
The high-performance helmet would be difficult, if not impossible, to cast using traditional techniques of pouring molten metal in sand molds. By using 3-D computer modeling and 3-D printing technologies to make a more precise mold, the team of students from the department of metallurgical and materials engineering cast a defect free helmet on the first trial, something that impressed the AFS judges, said Dr. Laurentiu Nastac, team adviser and an associate professor of metallurgical and materials engineering at UA.
Besides the novel casting process, students created the high performance helmet out of an aluminum alloy, but doubled the mechanical strength of the helmet while keeping it the same weight, about 1.4 lbs, by reinforcing it with aluminum oxide nanoparticles. The resulting light, yet strong, material functions at hotter temperatures than the non-reinforced aluminum alloy. Being a new trend in metalcasting research, this applications of nano-technology provided valuable experience for the students.
The team used the Advanced Ultrasonic Processing Facility available at the UA Solidification Laboratory, led by Nastac, to synthesize the metal-matrix nano-composite. Along with the application of foundry concepts learned in a senior metallurgical and materials engineering class, students also incorporated CAD modeling and powerful finite volume based simulator NovaFlow&Solid in their project to predict defects before actual pouring. The casting molds were prepared from ExOne’s state-of-the-art mold printing technology.
The team consists of students in metallurgical engineering and includes:
- Akash Patel, a graduate student from Ahmedabad, India
- Xiaoda Liu, a graduate student from Tianjin, China
- Shian Jia, a graduate student from Beijing, China
- Blake Whitley, a senior from Owens Cross Road
- Alex Blackwell, a senior from Fairhope
- Brett Hunter, a senior from Spring, Texas
In 1837, The University of Alabama became one of the first five universities in the nation to offer engineering classes. Today, UA’s fully accredited College of Engineering has more than 3,300 students and more than 100 faculty. In the last eight years, students in the College have been named USA Today All-USA College Academic Team members, Goldwater, Hollings, Portz and Truman scholars.
The University of Alabama, a student-centered research university, is experiencing significant growth in both enrollment and academic quality. This growth, which is positively impacting the campus and the state's economy, is in keeping with UA's vision to be the university of choice for the best and brightest students. UA, the state's flagship university, is an academic community united in its commitment to enhancing the quality of life for all Alabamians.