College of Engineering News • Iowa State University

Iowa State University, John Deere collaboration advances research in hybrid manufacturing


Advancements are being made within the field of hybrid manufacturing because of a research collaboration between Iowa State University and John Deere.

Matt Frank, a professor in industrial and manufacturing systems engineering, has spent the past year working alongside researchers in John Deere’s Advanced Technology and Engineering group as part of a professional development assignment, also known as sabbatical. He has reported to the Ames Technology Innovation Center, located in Iowa State’s Research Park, and the Moline Technology Innovation Center on these projects which combine both design and manufacturing within the realm of additive manufacturing (AM).

“The goals of these projects are to reduce cost and lead time in delivering prototype and production solutions for the business,” Frank said.

Frank, who is also the John B. Slater Professor in Sustainable Design & Manufacturing and has a Ph.D. in industrial engineering from Penn State University, is focused on a field known as hybrid manufacturing, which combines two or more processing methods to manufacture a component. For Frank, this means combining computer numerical controlled (CNC) machining with additive manufacturing.

“The challenges lie at the integration of the two methods, even more so than the individual engineering of the separate processes,” said Frank. “We need to re-imagine how a part is made when a portion of the process is additive, while the other is subtractive.”

As a professor focused on hybrid manufacturing, Frank said he is encouraged by the possibilities that these hybrid options provide.

“I really think combining the strengths and diminishing the weaknesses of two systems is a huge force multiplier. However, it does not mean you try to make Process A more like Process B, nor vice versa. A CNC machine will never be a 3D printer and a 3D printer will never be a CNC machine,” he said.

Frank has collaborated with Deere staff on various projects for more than a decade. This initial collaboration involved developing a rapid machining center for the Service Parts Operations at John Deere Waterloo Works. The goal of the project was to create software that would enable push-button process planning for CNC machining, which was made possible because of advancements in 3D printing at that time.

Since then, Frank and Deere staff have partnered on an America Makes-funded project involving the CNC machining of 3D printed parts as well as a project for MxD, formerly called the Digital Manufacturing and Design Innovation Institute/DMDII, focused on developing software for Design for Manufacturability called “ANA.” More recently, they worked together on another MxD project aimed at creating a commercially viable version of the rapid machining software that they initially developed years ago.

Frank said that while the equipment available at the Deere facilities and at Iowa State is relatively similar, it is the people and the systems within each that really makes the difference.

“At Deere, you are within a world-class system at a scale and complexity that is truly extraordinary. The network of people around the globe that come together to solve complex engineering problems like they are in the same room is certainly a game-changer,” he said. “We, too, have an extraordinary system and environment at Iowa State in our academic research and teaching labs. These complementary strengths create the synergies that make a public-private partnership valuable to both of us.”

Eric Johnson, a senior staff engineer in John Deere’s Advanced Manufacturing group who holds a Ph.D. in materials science and engineering from Iowa State, echoed Frank’s sentiment.

“Collaborations such as this are an excellent example of the ways in which companies can benefit from working together with our great public universities,” said Johnson. “The ability to have a world class researcher embedded within our team has provided a much deeper understanding of the technologies.”

Frank plans to return to campus for fall 2020 and will bring his experience and what he learned with Deere into both his classroom and his lab.

“I encourage all faculty to consider the immersion I just experienced,” Frank said. “There is so much to be gained by Iowa State from Deere, and from Iowa State by Deere. We just need to continue collaborating in more creative ways. This experience exceeded my expectation for a professional development assignment and I am very grateful for the opportunity.”