Guilleminot Receives NSF CAREER Award to Develop Modeling Frameworks and Tools

March 31, 2020

Competitive five-year grant will support the creation of computational models and software that could help innovators disrupt various markets through 3D-printed products

Three rows of 3D printers stretching across an entire room

The 3D-printing studio at the Duke Innovation Colab shows just how prevalent 3D printing has become in manufacturing and engineering. A new grant will help accurately model the physical properties of 3D-printed devices with complex geometries and imperfections introduced by the printing process.

Johann Guilleminot, assistant professor of civil and environmental engineering at Duke University, has been awarded a prestigious National Science Foundation Faculty Early Career Development (CAREER) Award. The award supports outstanding young faculty members in their efforts to build a successful research enterprise. For the next five years, the $570,000 grant will help fund Guilleminot’s efforts to create foundational simulation and modeling frameworks that accurately reflect the structural complexities and intrinsic variability created by additive manufacturing.

Since the industrial revolution, manufacturing processes have entailed creating large sheets of a material such as steel and then cutting away unwanted features, much like a sculptor chiseling a statue out of granite. With the advent of numerous types of 3D printers that can handle materials from plastic to metal to biological tissue, engineers can now create much more intricate shapes.

But these technologies are not perfect. Creating a part layer by layer introduces variability and complexities that traditional manufacturing techniques do not. This combination of intricate shapes and potential inconsistencies creates substantial barriers to accurately predicting and certifying the mechanical properties of many potential devices through the modeling techniques of the past.

Johann Guilleminot“We have long been developing a suite of tools to simulate and solve equations for regular shapes, corresponding to idealized geometries, but now we’re dealing with objects that don’t look like anything that has been produced before,” said Guilleminot, who also holds a secondary appointment in mechanical engineering and materials science. “The question now is can we develop new tools that can support these new manufacturing techniques to help make sure new and disruptive technologies can make it to the market.”

One the biggest hurdles to new materials and structures created through additive manufacturing, Guilleminot explains, is the large variability they exhibit at various length scales. But with new modeling tools, engineers could create designs that greatly reduce uncertainties in a final product.

As part of the project, Guilleminot will collaborate with Ken Gall, professor of mechanical engineering and materials science, biomedical engineering, and orthopedic surgery at Duke, who specializes in developing biomedical devices that take advantage of the intricacies that can be created by 3D printing. For example, orthopedic implants can be printed with a complex architecture that promotes bone formation and fusion.

Gall’s lab will produce samples of the devices they’re working on while Guilleminot’s lab will design the tools to model their mechanical properties and then use the physical devices to validate their predictions.

“The modeling technologies we are developing could be fully integrated into the design procedures for these types of implants or to perform simulations on tissues and organs on a patient-by-patient basis,” said Guilleminot. “Our research will lay the groundwork for many of these types of additive manufacturing applications that are expected to be disruptive in the coming years.”

The grant also has an ambitious outreach component, which Guilleminot is planning to take full advantage of. This part of the project will include different activities at the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences in Raleigh featuring modeling software and small 3D printers, collaborations with the FEMMES program and the Shared Materials Instrumentation Facility (SMIF) at Duke, and activities offered at the Ronald McDonald House of Durham Wake.