Powering ‘air taxis’ through manufacturing innovation

// Mechanical Engineering

Image of urban air mobility

Image credit: NASA

The future of transportation—think urban air mobility—calls for a new generation of manufacturing. Recent mechanical engineering PhD graduate Behzad “Buzz” Rankouhi is building an audacious prototype and a company to do it.

Photo of Behzad “Buzz” Rankouhi
Behzad “Buzz” Rankouhi

With support from WARF Accelerator, Rankouhi wants to leverage 3D-printing technology to open up new opportunities and a new generation of electric motors with applications in aerospace and beyond.

“If you want to hop from one side of town to the other in somewhere like New York or Los Angeles, we will start to see electric vehicles—air taxis—that take off and land vertically before the end of this decade,” Rankouhi says.

Rankouhi, who is the co-founder and CEO of Dastan Technologies, is working with his faculty advisor, Mechanical Engineering Professor Frank Pfefferkorn, and their collaborators to develop a multi-metal additive manufacturing system that can create fully 3D-printed electric motors used in an emerging market called urban air mobility.

While existing 3D-printing technology can create components with very complex geometries and fine features, crafting those fine parts out of multiple materials at the same time is currently impossible.

“Today you can make a part out of copper, and another part out of stainless steel, and then figure out a way to assemble it. But being able to print that complex component in one shot, in one machine, is what we’re working on,” Pfefferkorn says.

The ability to 3D print an electric motor in its entirety in a single process offers advantages such as weight reduction. It also allows for a kind of design freedom not possible with conventional methods, such as the ability to replace traditional copper windings with more efficient 3D-printed structures.

The researchers are envisioning an additive manufacturing system that allows for concurrent 3D printing of complex parts with up to four different metals and controlled compositional gradient.

Pfefferkorn says he was attracted to the project for its boldness. “The way the U.S. funding ecosystem works, we don’t often get to build machines,” he says. “We generally focus more on processes. So to be working on a first-generation prototype is exciting. That’s an opportunity that I haven’t had previously.”

A version of this story was first published by the Wisconsin Alumni Research Foundation (WARF).

Author: Staff