NASA is using 3D printing to build engine parts for its next-generation Space Launch System. Shown here is the first test piece produced on the M2 Cusing Machine at the Marshall Space Flight Center. (Source: NASA Marshall Space Flight Center/Andy Hardin)
3D paper printers. 3D plastic printers. 3D metal printers. All create parts that are monolithic (granted, some 3D plastic printers can print two different types of plastic, or different durometers, but it's still plastic).
These are each steps into the future, where one machine will print multiple materials to make a complete item. A valve built complete with internal seals comes to mind.
Innovative idea for using the 3D printing process to make rocket components. Certainly part integrity needs to be tested, but in many cases, this process can make more complex parts for less cost with a faster delivery time. I expect this application of technology to grow in the future.
Even the best 3D printed part I have seen is not perfect. I would be hesitant to use anything "printed" in the propulsion sections of rocket tech where human life is involved. At least for now. It is a great first step on NASA's part. Perhaps their work will innovate the printing sector like their work has in many others.
I considered printing parts for a side company I did some work for, the quality I received was unsellable. This was after outsourcing to a company who had the latest. Perhaps in the future..
Ann, this is a great new process. If it works, it will be a great way to produce these complex parts. I wonder, though, whether they can eliminate all the welds. That would be great.
It is also good to see that there will be reuse of some of the existing rocket engine designs. After the Apollo program the Saturn 5 tooling was mostly lost. When the Shuttle was having problems NASA was in no position to use technology that had already been developed to fill the gap.
These new 3D-printing technologies and printers include some that are truly boundary-breaking: a sophisticated new sub-$10,000, 10-plus materials bioprinter, the first industrial-strength silicone 3D-printing service, and a clever twist on 3D printing and thermoforming for making high-quality realistic models.
Using simulation to guide the drafting process can speed up the design and production of 3D-printed nanostructures, reduce errors, and even make it possible to scale up the structures. Oak Ridge National Laboratory has developed a model that does this.
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