NASA and Aerojet Rocketdyne have completed hot-fire tests on a rocket injector assembly made with a selective laser melting 3D printing process and powdered metals. (Source: NASA Glenn Research Center)
The ability to fabricate parts in space would certainly take the drama out of an Apollo-13 type repair scenario. Instead of scrounging pieces and duct-taping them together, you could make a whole new part, or even a totally redesigned part to deal with the situation.
TJ, your sci-fi movie scenario sounds just like what NASA envisions--feed everything into it and out comes the perfect replacement part. I'd like to see multi-material (metals + plastic) 3D printers, too. Those may not be so far away, since the architectural types use a wide variety of materials already.
TJ, Actually "replicator" is the perfect word for a macjhine that does the 3D manufacturing process. Fabrication almost always involves cutting up materials to make pieces that are then fabricated into an assembly. BUT the lazy media will undoubtedly come up with a shorter and much less accurate word for it. Just look at that term "apps", which is a lazy way of stating "application program", and you have a perfect example of how dumb lazy-talk can be. Even worse, consider the fact that the original meaning is far removed from the term, so that really people have no idea as to what they really are saying or what it means.
Sorry about the rant, but lazy speech is something that bothers me sometimes.
Nice to know that Pratt & Whitney is working with the University of Connecticut on additive manufacturing. As we've said in previous stories and comments, universities need to be on top of this trend because it's happening so fast. That way, our next generation of engineers will be ready for it.
I agree, Chuck. Looks like the commercial-entity-plus-university combination is increasing in 3D printing/AM R&D research. I think that makes a lot of sense for several reasons: universities get funding they need for practical, hands-on research, companies get access to fine minds, and students get a leg up on learning about what's going on in an industry.
I think these partnerships will happen more as 3D printing/AM moves from a proprietary niche industry to a larger, more open platform marketplace. The formation of the National Additive Manufacturing Innovation Institute (NAMII) is giving this a boost, also.
Mydesign, thanks for your enthusiasm. There's a lot going on with 3D printing of metals, more than most people know, since these companies have been very quiet compared to the hobbyist end machines that use plastics.
Mydesign, 3D printing of metals has been around for a long time, relatively speaking, in aerospace and defense, so the technology may not be growing quite as fast as you think. It's not clear to me--nor can I get anyone to tell me directly--why or how it's been possible to improve performance to the point where we can build rocket engines using the technology. I get the impression that it's mostly evolution, like in any other technology.
Mydesign, your comment about 3D printing humans is very funny. It is true, as we've pointed out elsewhere http://www.designnews.com/author.asp?section_id=1394&doc_id=256836 that body parts are being 3D printed, although so far they're mostly non-working prototypes. The 3D printed kidney mentioned in the Design News article--which was printed during a TED talk using living cells--is not yet working, but the same institution--Wake Forest Institute for Regenerative Medicine--has developed its own modified 3D printer to produce organ and tissue prototypes. Here's the TED talk link: http://www.ted.com/talks/anthony_atala_printing_a_human_kidney.html Here are some links from the Institute: http://www.wakehealth.edu/Research/WFIRM/Our-Story/Inside-the-Lab/Bioprinting.htm http://www.wakehealth.edu/Research/WFIRM/Projects/Replacement-Organs-and-Tissue.htm
The basic patents for 3D printing - including some for metal - will expire in 2014. I suspect folks are working on printers using those techniques so they are ready for sale when the patents expire.
The biggest change is in 5..10 years it will be possible to 3d print all major organs using the patient's own cells, eleminating rejection. )The only exception is the brain, but there are a lot of folks around that don't seem to miss having one. Mostly they are known as managers and politicians. :^)
mr_bandit, there's been some press recently about the upcoming expiration of patents for SLS 3D printing of metals. These printers already exist, at the high end--it's most likely the low end where they will become a lot more common. That could change the game quite a bit.
1. The current patent holders have an experience edge. I think they will come out with new printers, at both the low and high end. The differentiators (my guess) are the materials and the resolution.
2. New folks will enter the field, including the hacker/DIY (ie Rip-Rap) and turn-key folks (ie Type A Machines) although it may take them a year or two because of funding - look to Indigogo and Kickstarter for host projects.
3. An obvious source of the low-end designs are the MechE/CS/EE students at universities. 3D metal printers will make *excellent* student projects, because they will require cross-skilled teams. I suspect there might even be national competitions hosted by IEEE or similar groups.
Read "Makers" by Cory Doctorow - a fantastic thought experiment (as all good SF is) on the effects of cheap 3D printers of all sorts.
"3D printing of metals has been around for a long time, relatively speaking, in aerospace and defense, so the technology may not be growing quite as fast as you think. It's not clear to me--nor can I get anyone to tell me directly--why or how it's been possible to improve performance to the point where we can build rocket engines using the technology. I get the impression that it's mostly evolution, like in any other technology."
Ann, am working in avionics and space technology, but so far I never heard of 3D printing in this domain. Am trying to explore more on similar technology, so that if possible, deploy such solutions.
Mydesign, I'm pretty sure 3D printing--or more likely, other forms of AM--isn't used in avionics. But it's definitely been used in aerospace for quite awhile. While much of this is prototyping, some is actually end-use parts. You might want to check out our site's aerospace section--go to the bar with white letters on black background above this comments area, and click on the pull-down menu "Aerospace." Then check out my stories for the last year or so and you'll find some that address this topic.
I agree with Ann completely. The partnership between universities and the corporate firms serve to improve the quality of the research made. The universities get the required funds for their research while the firms get fresh and fine minds to aid with their developments.
How 3D printing fits into the digital thread, and the relationship between its uses for prototyping and for manufacturing, was the subject of a talk by Proto Labs' Rich Baker at last week's Design & Manufacturing Minneapolis.
How can automakers, aerospace contractors, and other OEMs get new metal alloys that are stronger, harder, and can survive ever higher temperatures? One way is to redesign their crystalline structures at the nanoscale and microscale.
Although a lot of the excitement about 3D printing and additive manufacturing surrounds its ability to make end-products and functional prototypes, some often ignored applications are the big improvements that can come by using it for tooling, jigs, and fixtures.
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