NSF grant to help researcher with manufacture of ultra-thin precision parts


MANHATTAN, KANSAS — A grant from the National Science Foundation will help a Kansas State University engineer develop better ways to machine ultra-thin precision parts, which are micro-sized components for high-performance products.

Shuting Lei, professor of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, has received a $300,000 NSF Manufacturing Machines and Equipment grant for his work with the manufacturing of ultra-thin precision parts.

These precision parts often must be measured in microns of width — the same way, for example, width of bacteria are measured.

"Precision parts made from brittle materials such as glass and ceramics have broad applications in the health care, biomedical, energy and photonics areas," Lei said. "A major problem in machining these materials is random crack propagation into the work piece. This results in subsurface cracks and thus degrades the strength of the machined parts."

Lei's award, which is anticipated to involve two doctoral students and three or more undergraduates, will support his fundamental research for development of a novel machining process to overcome this main limitation with controlled crack propagation. The new process will enable high-efficiency machining of brittle materials without compromising part quality.

"This significant award recognizes Shuting's leadership and expertise in this crucial area of advanced manufacturing," said Bradley Kramer, professor and department head of industrial and manufacturing systems engineering at Kansas State University. "But this is the caliber of research and professors we must produce as the college moves toward the goal of being a Top 50 public research university and a Top 25 college of engineering by 2025."

Lei's other research interests include femto-second laser micro/nano machining and surface texturing of various materials for a variety of potential applications, including sensing, photonic and microfluidic devices, and nanotechnology. His work involves difficult-to-machine materials such as structural ceramics, titanium alloys, super alloys, rocks and composites; laser-assisted materials processing with an emphasis on laser-assisted machining of ceramics; and development of novel cutting tools.

Lei completed his bachelor's and master's degrees from Tsinghua University in China, as well as a doctorate from Purdue University, all in mechanical engineering.

He was the principal investigator on another NSF grant completed in 2015. Lei has been recognized by the NSF with its CAREER Award and a Kansas NSF Experimental Program to Stimulate Competitive Research First Award. He also has received the Kansas State University President's Faculty Development Award, College of Engineering Dean's Award of Excellence, the Society of Manufacturing Engineers Research Initiation Award and a Big 12 Faculty Fellowship Award.


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