I think it would be a good idea to develop one or more types of 3D printing machines for use at any future, permanent settlement on the Moon or Mars. It's not like you can order a badly needed part once you're there, so make it!
To David12345: You raise a good point about the advantages of full-scale aircraft. Reynolds numbers (which define the relationship between viscous forces and momentum forces) rise when momentum goes up, so there's a stability advantage as the size of a scale model grows larger. The bottom line is that a plane with a two-foot wingspan is a lot more likely to crash than one with a 25-foot wingspan.
Yes, Bees can do it. Nature still has many things to show us. I am thinking along similar lines with regards to future integrated 3D manufacturing. I can envision a new breed of 3D building machine that incorporates the FDM and/or SLS process along with laying in strands of resin coated carbon fibers to enhance strength via internal layers.
I would be inclined to agree with David12345. There would have to be some serious advances in order to have a comfort level 3D printing a full-scale model of an aircraft wing. But given the way things are advancing, I'm not so sure that's out of the realm of possibility, and I absolutely think you are all right about the possibilities around prototyping.
Yes, the primary barriers to constructing human-scale aircraft prototypes are the build-chamber dimensions and material costs. In 1997 my senior-design team designed and fabricated an electric, dual-rotor, ducted-fan engine for radio-control aircraft, using multiple additive-manufacturing technologies that our campus has in-house. We even filled the photopolymer-fabricated rotors with carbon composite to improve their strength (there were limited AM materials at the time). The only reason that we did not fabricate an entire plane then was the associated cost.
It is unfortunate that these technologies are still "in their infancy" fourteen years later; but, with the institution of ASTM standards, they will certainly gain momentum. As they do, prices will drop and larger machines will come online.
As for the potential to incorporate internal structures, that is a focus of our current research work.
Low stressed components such as interior panels may be a better fit; although, I don't know how the economics of 3D printing Nylon compares to an aluminum or oak low volume injection mold with ?ABS?
Clearly, this appears to have a good niche for prototyping. The structural strength, and UV durability, of Nylon is managable with a model plane.
Of course, the loads are higher with full scale aircraft. I am skeptical that this would be the best choice. Even the wind loading of a tip, or other skin component over the airframe, may exceed the strength or toughness of an unfilled Nylon (particularly, after hygroscopic absorbsion in a hot wet tropic environment, or freezing in the sub-zero temperatures at altitude). Those plastics would also require an opaque paint to protect them from UV degradation.
I agree with your comments, however if we look at general issues like basic shape, wisnd behavior, regular stresses on the palane in a wind tunnel, then this type of prototyping can be very helpful. After main weak points are established, the actual design can begin. I think that 3-d printing is a super idea and will be more and more popular when the pricing is reduced.
I think you're right on the money, Chuck. As you can see from this plane, it's no where near full size--more like a test model and I could definitely picture it as a stand-in for a Hollywood film clip.
As for using the technology to produce prototypes, I think there's huge potential there. Since as Ivan pointed out, building and designing aircraft wings are such a complex and highly intricate process, especially using composite materials, it would seem to me to be a great way to produce scale models very quickly and serve as a learning/exploratory exercise.
It would be interesting to see the largest models that could be built using this technology. Seems like it would be a great methodology for Hollywood movies, where model planes must be built in duplicates because so many of them crash. Using 3D printing, it would seem like the Holywood producers could have a new model on the runway with its propeller spinning shortly after the first one crashes. Same goes for the aircraft industry: This would be a great way to build prototypes and test new concepts.
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