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MSU professor develops green motors using 3D printing

Posted at 8:03 PM, Oct 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-05 20:03:42-04

EAST LANSING, Mich. — A Michigan State University professor is developing a type of green motor manufactured using 3-D printing, which eliminates waste at every step of production.

Shanelle Foster, a professor in the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, has been working on this research since 2009.

“To me, motors themselves are green,” Foster said, "but to make them more green, we have to think about how they arrive here, so the manufacturing itself.”

Foster says that one way to make the manufacturing process more environmentally friendly is to use what’s called additive manufacturing. This is when something like a motor is made without generating the waste that comes when materials for the motor, such as steel, are cut and the excess material is thrown away.

“It allows us to only put material where we want that material," she said. "So, it eliminates that cutting process and eliminates waste.”

One of Foster's 3D motors
One of Foster's 3D motors

Additive manufacturing also allows for novel ways to create motors.

“The properties of that steel in motors is uniform throughout,” Foster said. “3D printing can allow us to put, not only just material where we want it, but the type of material that we want. So we can diversify our material.”

Foster came up with the idea to diversify the materials in her motors by observing an unlikely source… spiders.

She noticed that spider webs are strong and difficult to break, and she began to wonder what makes them so durable.

“I started learning about the fact that they use different silks,” Foster said. “They all look the same, but they use different silks and they put that silk where they need it to perform a certain function, which is very similar to what I want to do with motors.”

By using different materials, the motors can also become smaller and more efficient.

A motor being tested inside Foster's lab
A motor being tested inside Foster's lab

Thang Phan has been working in Foster's lab since 2014 and says he is excited to be working on this new technology.

“This is one of the best labs in Michigan that has capabilities and research equipment and can closely collaborate with the big three automotive industries,” Phan said. “So, when I got the opportunity to join here, I took it immediately.

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