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College of Engineering and Computing


Wout

Aerospace Student Named Top in Field

Research of Grad Student Recognized Internationally

Wout De Backer hopes his research will improve aerospace manufacturing - making aircrafts stronger, safer and more efficient. Recently, his research was recognized internationally after he was among just 20 students worldwide selected by Aviation Week Network as "Tomorrow's Engineering Leaders: The 20 Twenties."

Sponsored by the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, the 20 Twenties recognize the top science, technology, engineering and mathematics undergraduate and graduate students for their academic excellence, the research and projects they undertake, and their contributions to the broader community. The 20 Twenties were honored during Aviation Week's 59th Annual Laureates Awards on March 3 in Washington.

A native of Belgium, De Backer is focusing on additive manufacturing. He earned a bachelor's degree in aerospace engineering and a master's degree in aerospace structures and design methodologies from the Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands. During graduate school, Wout studied abroad at the University of Kansas. De Backer is the founder of the AIAA chapter at South Carolina. He interned at AlphaSTAR Corp. in California and CleanERA in the Netherlands. He is currently designing and constructing a home-built 3-D printer/laser cutter.

"Instead of using standard 3-D printing materials, I am using in-house created filament, which is known to have FAA approved flame-retardant capabilities. Many companies that claim to have printed with continuous fiber are in fact gluing dry carbon fibers to plastic. Therefore, the strength is reduced. This results in weaker  bonds," said De Backer.

Some companies use thermoset-impregnated carbon fibers which do not have the FST (Flame, Smoke and Toxicity) characteristics required for our current aerospace application. De Backer also developed a fiber-impregnation setup to ensure that the plastic polymer is infused within the fiber before the printing occurs, which is possible through the dissolving of the polymer in a solvent.

"We have developed a setup that allows us to print the carbon fibers at reasonable speeds to form (currently) simple geometries. The technical relevance of this work to aerospace is clear - through the use of certified materials, components can be created for direct implementation in an aircraft or spacecraft."

Although the process is not yet complete, initial trials are promising and show a significant stiffness and strength-increase when compared to its non-reinforced counterparts. His research, in part, is sponsored by several aerospace and non-aerospace companies which are hoping to implement the technology in their production lines.