Episode 78: Robotic Blacksmithing

Dr. Andrew Gillman, an AFRL Materials Research Engineer; Mr. Nate Ames, executive director of The Ohio State University’s Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence; and Dr. Michael A. Groeber, an Ohio State University professor join the podcast to discuss the power of partnerships.

Their collaboration led to a robotic black blacksmithing system, which uses incremental forming, a heat-assisted metalworking process that permits users to manufacture small lots of customized manufactured parts.


By Justin Hayward, Air Force Research Laboratory Public Affairs

Dr. Michael Grover, Nathan Ames, and Dr. Andrew Gillman guest-starred on the Lab Life podcast to discuss their ongoing project, robotic blacksmithing.

The Lab Life podcast, hosted by Michele Miller and Kenneth McNulty, takes its audience behind the scenes with the Air Force and Space Force scientists, engineers, and professionals who are developing tomorrow’s technology today.

Robotic blacksmithing is a prototype system created from the concept of metamorphic manufacturing that looks to answer the following question: How can we provide flexibility and agility to a relatively closed autonomous cell that could incrementally forge materials and parts to meet the mission requirements?

“Robotic blacksmithing allows the user to make the parts they need rather than picking them from a book. You can use the system’s microstructure and deformation to create the parts you need for any application,” said Amen.

Using artificial intelligence, robotic blacksmithing looks to use machine learning to teach robots how to blacksmith.

It imparts the knowledge that humans have accumulated and puts that into an algorithm, and lets the machine figure out a path forward.

“The Air Force has mission capable rates of 70%, sometimes as low as 50%, meaning half of our materials are in a state of repair. Some of the ways we have traditionally forged components no longer exist, or we have used a process that forges the required material as one piece. Fixing these materials requires engineers to use a reverse engineering process or other methods, which take years to complete. We believe that with robotic blacksmithing, in conjunction with additive manufacturing, we can drive our lead time down from a yearly to a matter of weeks,” said Gillman.

The goal of robotic blacksmithing is to combine the efficiency of mass production with the flexibility and creativity of artisanal work, by taking some of these traditional processes, and look at them in a new way.

The longer-term goals focus on using robotic blacksmithing and other manufacturing areas that could use this artificial intelligence to accomplish tasks efficiently.

Dr. Michael Grover is an associate professor of integrated systems engineering and mechanical aerospace engineering at the Ohio State University (OSU).

Nathan Ames is the executive director of the OSU Center for Design and Manufacturing Excellence (CDME)

Dr. Andrew Gillman is an Air Force Research Laboratory (AFRL) Research Materials engineer.

Listen to the full Lab Life podcast episode below to learn more about Robotic Blacksmithing or check out Dr. Gillman’s AFRL Inspire Talk “Striking Where the Innovation’s Hot.”