THU AM News: UW-Madison engineers create method for improving 3D metal printing; Vacancy rates on the rise across health professions in Wisconsin

— Engineers at UW-Madison have created a new method for improving the quality of 3D-printed products. 

Additive manufacturing, commonly known as 3D printing, can create complex metal structures with greater ease than traditional manufacturing processes, a release from the university shows. But the process often introduces defects such as tiny cracks and pits in the material. 

Lianyi Chen, an assistant professor of mechanical engineering at the university, says metal 3D printing has thus far been unable to “consistently produce parts with the same high quality and reliability” as conventional manufacturing processes. That can pose a problem for using these parts in “critical or load-bearing applications where failure isn’t an option,” he said in the release. 

To overcome this issue, Chen and a team of student researchers incorporated tiny ceramic particles into a technique called laser powder bed fusion used in the manufacturing process. The technique involves using a laser to melt metallic powder placed in specific places to help form the final product. Defects can arise when tiny droplets of liquified material “splash out” and interact in unforeseen ways. 

Introducing ceramic particles into this process helps to keep that from occurring, Chen and his team determined through x-ray imaging and theoretical modeling. He said they 3D printed a metal part with few defects and comparable quality to a commercial product. 

Minglei Qu, a graduate student and lead author on the study, says this method was able to “get rid of the problematic large spatter” typical to the process for the first time. 

“When we introduced the nanoparticles, we found that they made the liquid droplets almost have an armor on the surface, so that when they collided, they didn’t merge together,” Qu said in the release. 

Their work was recently published in the journal Nature Communications, and was funded in part by the National Science Foundation. 

See the full study here: 

— Vacancy rates for more than a dozen hospital positions in the state increased significantly last year, a report from the Wisconsin Hospital Association shows. 

According to the 2022 Health Care Workforce Report, 13 of the 17 positions tracked by WHA saw an increase in vacancies between September 2020 and September 2021, and seven positions had vacancy rates of 10 percent or higher. 

WHA attributes the change to more health care workers retiring, increased pressure on workers due in part to greater demand for care and an aging population, and the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Our health care workforce has shouldered an enormous professional, mental and emotional burden over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Ann Zenk, WHA senior vice president of workforce and clinical practice. “They are understandably drained.” 

Vacancy rates tend to be higher among “frontline” clinical and technical staff, the report shows. 

The highest rate last year was for certified nursing assistants, which rose from just over 8 percent in 2020 to over 17 percent in 2021. Vacancy rates increased from under 8 percent to 13 percent for surgical techs, from 6 percent to 11 percent for respiratory therapists, and from just over 8 percent to around 11 percent for licensed practical nurses. 

Meanwhile, vacancy rates for registered nurses, radiology techs and pharmacy techs/aides — which had all stayed below 6 percent since at least 2016 — jumped to 10 percent or higher in 2021. 

But the report also points to “continued and renewed interest” in health careers based on national data, showing nursing school enrollments and medical school applications saw an increase in 2020 and 2021. 

Still, WHA President and CEO Eric Borgerding says addressing the state’s health care workforce shortage will take “a concerted and sustained strategy” by industry, educators and policymakers in Wisconsin. 

The report includes recommendations to support such a strategy, such as allowing health care workers to “perform at the top of their skill level” by altering certification or training requirements for certain positions. 

Others include boosting adoption and use of telemedicine and other technology, building on public-private partnerships aimed at growing the state’s workforce, reducing the “regulatory burden” related to electronic health records and other data and billing submissions, identifying and addressing factors driving burnout, and more. 

See the report here: 

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— Milwaukee’s BrightStar Wisconsin Foundation has announced an investment of $100,000 in Spotz, a software platform that helps hosts manage and promote their reservable facilities and spaces.

“Nobody seems to have effectively solved this problem (of monetizing space),” BrightStar Investment Committee member Jay Wigdale said in a statement. “Spotz allows communities to better monetize and promote usage of its assets.”

According to a release, BrightStar collaborated with investor Mark Bakken of Madison’s HealthX Ventures as well as Milwaukee Venture Partners on the round. 

Madison-based Spotz, which has 15 paying customers, promotes excess space to potential renters and makes booking athletic space comparable to booking a hotel room.

In an SEC filing, Spotz indicated it is looking to raise $500,000.

See the filing: 

See more at Madison Startups: 

— The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development has granted over $31 million to housing and service organizations in the state for efforts to reduce homelessness. 

The funding comes from the federal agency’s Continuum of Care Competition Awards program, going toward projects including creating new permanent “supportive housing,” rapid rehousing initiatives and transitional housing resources. The 91 Wisconsin awards range from $15,000 to over $3.1 million. 

See the full list of awards here: 

— DATCP has issued an order banning poultry from any exhibitions, shows or swap meets in Jefferson County after the highly pathogenic avian influenza virus was identified at a farm in the county. 

This order will remain in effect through the end of May as agency staff conduct monitoring of other poultry sites within 10 kilometers of the farm. Because HPAI is highly contagious and can be fatal to chickens, birds on the farm in question are being killed in hopes of preventing the disease from spreading. 

DATCP earlier this week announced the first case of HPAI found in the state since 2015. The agency notes the disease does not pose a public health concern, and no human cases of avian influenza have been found in the United States. 

See the order: 

See the release: 


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<i>See these and other press releases: </i>

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