Direct digital manufacturing is making fast strides for low-volume applications requiring complex detail, but some significant issues remain. Design engineers require process verification, particularly for high-end parts. For example, the widespread adaption of closed-loop process controls about a dozen years ago provided verification that required process parameters in the injection molding process were being maintained. Direct digital manufacturing systems were originally developed by companies in the rapid prototyping business, where such requirements were not necessary. Parts were simply required for form and fit, and not so much for functional testing. There is often considerable process variation in the new additive fabrication systems being developed for manufacturing directly from digital files. Improvements will come, however, and the new systems are certainly worth a look in several situations, particularly those where there are constant design change orders.
NASA's MAVEN spacecraft has entered Mars' atmosphere, carrying instruments to help Earthlings figure out what happened to it. Launched last November, the spacecraft arrived at the red planet right on time after a journey of 442 million miles.
Airbus Defence and Space has 3D printed titanium brackets for communications satellites. The redesigned, one-piece 3D-printed brackets have better thermal resistance than conventionally manufactured parts, can be produced faster, cost 20% less, and save about 1 kg of weight per satellite.
At IMTS last week, Stratasys introduced two new multi-materials PolyJet 3D printers, plus a new UV-resistant material for its FDM production 3D printers. They can be used in making jigs and fixtures, as well as prototypes and small runs of production parts.
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