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)
Jack, as mentioned below, these are very different app and technology areas. Here's a manufacturing publication article (plus comments) about industrial AM increasing the use of metals and how different these uses, and technology, are from the maker movement level of machines and materials: http://www.manufacturing-executive.com/thread/2532 And here's a DN article about industrial 3D printing with non-plastic materials: http://www.designnews.com/document.asp?doc_id=252293 There are others listed at the bottom of this current article.
Greg, I agree. Using 3D printers to make rocket components is quite intriguing. I know the testing of these components are probably more stringent than with conventional manufactured parts. I know the Maker community would love to have access to one of these machines in their Makerspace!
Lou, thanks for weighing in on this one: I was curious to see what you'd say. Cabe, the stuff you've seen is probably on the consumer and prototype level 3D materials and processes, which mostly use metal, not plastic. Both materials and processes are, of course, quite different for industrial and aerospace uses, and for high-end automotive. I've heard of several stories like yours of unacceptable parts coming from vendors in the non-industrial network. It's important to know where the wall is between the two app areas.
Having NASA involved will probably speed the maturing of the 3-D printing process, since they always demand the very most reliable parts, and usually there is much less urgency about reducing costs. That is a vital difference between the space program and much of the junk produced for the "consumer" market, which has the primary target of minimum production cost. When lowest price is the prime directive and sole target, quality and reliability usually suffer. So the NASA use of 3-D printing will help gain understanding of how to produce better quality.
I am impressed with the fact that some of the process is good enough to put it inconsideration. Of course the space program is a very logical area, since the production quantities are fairly small, which makes the creation of tooling for each part much less economical.
It will be interesting to see what benefits are delivered by the NASA involvement now.
I think you are bringing up a non-issue. The whole point of the article was that NASA was evaluating the process. Having worked this industry I can assure you that the custom built machine, not the ones you may have used, will be thoroughly tested as will the process. If it can't be made to work it will be dropped. But given the payback if it can be made to work it will probably be pursued.
I have printed structural plastic parts that are still around today. Like any process for producing parts the engineer has to work with the process and not expect it to perform/behave like some other process.
I feel confident that this additive manufacturing process will evolve further just as it has over the last several years. Who knows what process development will be incorporated into parts like these to make them a viable alternative in the harsh environments of rocket propulsion systems. Nice to see the innovation that this technology is fostering.
Oak Ridge National Laboratory has developed a surface preparation method to improve joining carbon composites with aluminum, with potentially far-reaching ramifications for high-volume industrial applications.
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