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Ohio State team shines in manufacturing technology innovation challenge

The student team's robotic blacksmithing machine setupThe student team's robotic blacksmithing machine setupA team from The Ohio State University claimed the $25,000 top prize in phase one of the LIFT Prize in Robotic Blacksmithing, a challenge designed to encourage teams of college and high school students to innovate in manufacturing technology.

The LIFT Prize in Robotic Blacksmithing, or metamorphic manufacturing, was created by LIFT – Lightweight Innovations For Tomorrow and Ohio State’s Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence to combine the ancient skills of the blacksmith with digital age robotics to create new material forming capabilities.

In phase one of the LIFT Prize, teams were asked to program a machine to shape clay, or plastecine, into two predetermined shapes. Options included a goblet, a horseshoe and a bracket.

The Ohio State team, “Team Honeybadger,” claimed first place from the judges after successfully adapting a CNC machine with custom software and a forming end affector to create a horseshoe and a bracket using small incremental deformation steps. This process can be adapted to the local on-demand forming of metallic components. The second and third place schools were Columbus, Ohio’s Metro High School and the University of Michigan. The teams will receive prizes of $25,000; $15,000 and; $7,500 respectively for their work in the contest.

“It was fun for us to work on a project that may someday fill a niche that nobody thought would exist,” said Team Honeybadger member Brian Thurston, who graduated in 2017 with a bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering. Recent materials science and engineering (MSE) graduate Alex Koenig and current MSE graduate student Bhuvi Nirudhoddi rounded out the team. 

The work from each of the teams can be found here.

Through this competition, LIFT is promoting robotic blacksmithing as the next wave of digital manufacturing technology. It comes on the heels of the first two digital manufacturing revolutions: computer numeric control, in which cutting tools precisely remove metal to form complex shapes; and additive manufacturing and 3-D printers, which add layers of material by computer control to create complicated solid components. The robotic blacksmithing approach can use a wider range of materials and produce great material properties, and by reshaping, instead of cutting, material is not cut away and feedstock is readily available.

“It was a thrill to see the results of all of the students’ work,” said Ohio State Professor of Materials Science and Engineering Glenn Daehn, the competition’s technical director and leader of LIFT’s Agile and Low-Cost Processes Pillar. “Robotic Blacksmithing is the next wave of digital manufacturing and this competition is giving students the opportunity to innovate and pioneer its future.”

While this first phase used soft plastecine to prove the concept of robotic blacksmithing, the concept can be applied to metals. Future phases of the competition will ask students to form shapes out of more challenging metals.

LIFT, one of the founding Manufacturing USA institutes, and a part of the National Network of Manufacturing Innovation program, is a Detroit-based public-private partnership dedicated to developing and deploying advanced lightweight metal manufacturing technologies, and implementing education and training programs to better prepare the workforce today and in the future.


- Originally published by the College of Engineering