The Department of Materials Science and Engineering at Ghent University has a keen interest in advanced materials, not just from an academic approach, but also in real, end-use situations. This has led its research to cover a vast range of materials, new manufacturing processes and materials applications.
Dr. Nicolas Lammens is responsible for the research in additive manufacturing and his lab's need was for evaluation testing of key biomedical components for industrial customers, in ways that were as close to real-life usage as possible. Critical to this was making sure that they could meet the industry's needs for dynamic testing in a variety of fields.
Great focus was given on investigating new biomedical devices made with new manufacturing techniques. Most recently, this involved 3D printing a variety of components and testing them in real-life applications.
"3D printing is really interesting for us," Lammens said, "because it’s exciting what you can do with this technology that you couldn’t do before and very little is known of the mechanical properties for the printed specimens. Medically speaking, it's very interesting to be able to create something tailored to patients, increasing comfort and ergonomics. On the other hand, it’s important that we understand how these components behave under complex cyclic loading conditions across their lifetime."
"We had some experience with Instron equipment, as we have other testing instruments, so we went to them to understand what they had that might help us" said Lammens.
It was important for the team to have a system that was as flexible as possible, one that allowed them to meet current and future dynamic testing needs, whilst offering confidence in the results.
"Because we were dealing with delicate specimens, we couldn't consider traditional servo-hydraulic systems. To meet our requirements we looked at ElectroPuls and two other suppliers," said Lammens. "Although not immediately necessary for our testing, when we realized we could get axial and torsion dynamic capabilities in a single package, that quickly became a key requirement as it enabled us to get that much closer to real-life. Another important requirement for the team and the university as a whole was making sure that the machine was easy to use.
"Being part of the University, we have a requirement to also make the machines available for teaching. We need to make sure that the system is accessible and safe to use for students, once we've given them a short training. The stiffness tuning plays a really big role in this, as it simplifies the tuning process immensely compared to other dynamic machines.".
After looking at different options, it was clear that the ElectroPuls E10000 Linear-Torsion was the best solution for its needs, allowing them to replicate real use cases with its axial and torsion dynamic capabilities. Working with Instron representatives, the team at Ghent University discovered the potential of the Instron ElectroPuls machine, its controller and WaveMatrix software, learning how they could harness the machine's capabilities to fully characterize their components.
"We understood how easy it was to use the machine," he said. "What truly surprised me was how effortless it was to switch from specimen to specimen; the tuning wizard really made it simple to get the test up and running and the low stiffness load control really made a difference when dealing with very compliant components".
After the purchase of its new system, the team was helped to get up and running by a local Instron service engineer.
The benefit of having such a flexible machine was one of the team’s biggest surprises.
"We wanted to work with different industries, and to do so we needed equipment that was as versatile as possible. Without the capability of our E10000 we probably wouldn't have been able to take on the projects we have now,” said Lammens.
"It has allowed us to test faster and more easily. If I have to do a test, the first thing I think about is ‘Can I do it on the ElectroPuls?’ and typically the answer is yes. In fact it is often the only machine capable of doing what I want." said Lammens. "If I had to pick a game-changer, it'd have to be the ease of use - I know I can be up and running an optimised system in seconds, regardless of how high or low the stiffness is, and it means I can get true load control on my specimens, without worrying about mixed control modes - it just works and I can be confident that I will be able to see any changes in the material's properties all along the waveforms, not just the peaks."
Since its venture into 3D-printing, Ghent University has expanded into supporting new materials and manufacturing research in a variety of industries, including fatigue testing of 3D printed titanium. Its latest efforts include projects on both polymers and metals.