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Rudolph honored as Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer

December 26, 2014

A University of Wisconsin–Madison polymer engineer has received the 2015 Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award from the Society of Manufacturing Engineers. Natalie Rudolph, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering, is among 11 recipients who will receive the award in 2015.

Rudolph was recently hired from the Fraunhofer Institute for Chemical Technology in Germany, where she headed its Materials and Testing Division. At the institute, she established a research program on the effects of pressure and temperature on the properties of polymers during processing and co-authored Polymer Rheology, a textbook used in industry and academia.

Photo: Natalie Rudolph

Natalie Rudolph

Since 1980, the SME Outstanding Young Manufacturing Engineer Award has recognized manufacturing engineers age 35 or younger who have made exceptional contributions and accomplishments in the manufacturing industry.

“I am pleased to congratulate Natalie Rudolph on her work,” UW–Madison Chancellor Rebecca Blank says. “Her research is driving innovation in a field with tremendous market potential and she is taking advantage of the size and breadth of our university by drawing departments together in new ways.”  

Working with colleagues in the UW–Madison Polymer Engineering Center, Rudolph is initially focusing her research on 3-D printing, or fused deposition modeling — a type of additive manufacturing that uses polymer melt strands to build a part layer by layer. The process of fused deposition modeling occurs when a filament of a polymer is fed into the heated nozzle of a 3-D printer, which melts the polymer. From there, the nozzle deposits this polymer on the platform below, just like the movements of an inkjet printer. However, in 3-D printing, the platform is moved down after each layer is printed to generate a 3-D part.

Her research, in particular, revolves around investigating the different types of material that can be fed into a 3-D printer for additive manufacturing. 

“(Rudolph’s) research is driving innovation in a field with tremendous market potential … ”

Rebecca Blank

“Depending on the material we feed in, we get certain properties,” Rudolph says. “Nowadays most people in industry and research work with neat polymer materials. I want to functionalize these simple materials by the addition of fillers, such as copper particles that create conductivity. So we will have a plastic part, which is normally an insulating material, but by the addition of fillers, we increase the conductivity of the material. This is very interesting in applications involving heat transfer like cooling devices.”

She is also studying how to add fibers and be able to print composites, which result in a stronger final product. In Germany, she worked with automated fiber placement, a process that lays impregnated fibers with various orientations next to each other on a surface. She hopes to combine additive manufacturing with automated fiber placement.

Collaboration with engineers, as well as others throughout the university, is among the many reasons Rudolph was excited to join the College of Engineering faculty. In fact, Rudolph, who began as a textile engineer, already has reached out to textiles and design colleagues in the UW–Madison School of Human Ecology. “This university will give me amazing opportunities for collaborations across all disciplines: sustainability, design, medical applications,” Rudolph says.

“This university will give me amazing opportunities for collaborations across all disciplines: sustainability, design, medical applications.”

Natalie Rudolph

For Rudolph, sharing information is an important aspect of education, and the open-source nature of 3-D printing is one of the many reasons she is excited about its prospects. 

“The whole community works on redesigning those printers and improving them, (and) then those people share them in open source,” Rudolph says. “All of the designs and optimization steps are available to everybody. For me that is just amazing. We can work together.”

Tim Osswald, a UW–Madison professor of mechanical engineering, says Rudolph’s hire further enhances the university’s strength in additive manufacturing.  “Of mechanical engineering departments, I think in additive manufacturing we’re now among the leaders in equipment, knowledge and experience,” he says.

Adam Malecek

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