NASA’s Outer Space Additive Manufacturing Facility Targets “Alien Market”

Just when you thought things could not get any crazier, NASA has set up an additive manufacturing plant in space that could take 3D printing orders from aliens. 

NASA’s advanced manufacturing system has been installed on the International Space Station and is said to be attracting considerable interest from unknown beings across the cosmos.

Originally intended as an emergency tool shop for the ISS crew, the zero-gravity 3D printing facility is now being made available to extraterrestrial customers across the universe.

While NASA is still waiting for its first alien customers, Earthlings are taking a strong interest in the system created by a company called Made In Space

NASA has in the past talked about 3D printing entire spacecraft and other structures while out in space, and so have other space agencies, such as ESA, which wants to build holiday resorts on the Moon and space cities on Mars and space colonies that just remain floating, out in space.

NASA is funding a multi-billion-dollar, long-term project called Archinaut, intended to develop additive manufacturing and 3D printing in outer space, and Made In Space is one of the companies involved.

Andrew Rush, president of Made In Space, says: “Archinaut is being designed from the ground up to be a truly cross-cutting technology, providing entirely new space capabilities for NASA and other government missions as well as both pre-existing commercial satellite manufacturers and emerging commercial space platforms.”

Alien technology for Earthlings 

Meanwhile, back on Earth, additive manufacturing has been much-heralded as the more convenient and efficient answer to a lot of important manufacturing questions on the minds of those who live and grow old on Earth, such as, “Can you 3D print some false teeth for my dad?”

3D printers are changing large swathes of the manufacturing industry, even though the machines are still considered at the early stages of their evolution, with early adopters looking at paying $1 million for an advanced model.

Stratasys, which manufactures 3D printers, says the technology is set to have an “imminent impact” on the way things are made.

Stratasys conducted a survey into additive manufacturing, questioning some 700 designers, engineers and executives in relevant industries.

The survey found that three-quarters of businesses expect to increase their investment in additive manufacturing, or 3D printing. And additive metal use is expected to double over the next couple of years.

“For those of us working in, around and with 3D printing, it’s an incredibly exciting time,” says Joe Allison, CEO of Stratasys, in the foreword to the report.

Additional additive solutions centre 

Needless to say, the additive manufacturing industry is growing. In a couple of months from now, global engineering technologies company Renishaw plans to open what it says is the UK’s first “solutions centre” for additive manufacturing.

The company this week hosted a visit at its Stone, Staffordshire Site from the Member of the European Parliament for West Midlands, Anthea McIntyre, and chief executive officer of the Manufacturing Technologies Association, James Selka.

Accompanied by Renishaw’s head of global additive manufacturing, Clive Martell, and marketing manager of Renishaw’s additive manufacturing products division, Robin Weston, the visitors were given a tour of the 90,000 square ft additive manufacturing facility based on Brooms Road, on the Stone Business Park.

Renishaw’s new Staffordshire site contains fully equipped research and development facilities and an advanced additive manufacturing lab.

Renishaw says this is the UK’s first Solutions Centre, and is set to open in July. The Solutions Centres offer companies that want to test the capabilities of metal additive manufacturing and 3D printing access to Renishaw’s AM machines, expertise and equipment.

Renishaw has a global network of such Solutions Centres.

Currently serving as the employment spokesperson in the European Parliament, MEP McIntyre met some of Renishaw’s employees at the Stone site.

Reflecting on her visit to Renishaw Stone, McIntyre says: “As a major British exporter, Renishaw is doing incredible things for the employment landscape in the West Midlands. The company’s apprenticeship and employee training schemes are excellent examples of what UK manufacturers should do to help bridge the skills gap and equip employees with the right skills for the future.”

MTA boss Selka says: “As the UK’s only manufacturer of metal additive manufacturing machines, Renishaw is working with OEMs [original equipment manufacturers] and industry to help lower the entry barriers to the technology.

“The generous Stone facility is a unique additive manufacturing operation in the UK. It is equipped with state-of-the-art R&D facilities, training and lecture rooms, creating the perfect hub for ideas, projects and knowledge for the future of the UK’s additive manufacturing industry.

“It’s great to see a British company pushing the boundaries of such an innovative technology that has the potential to change manufacturing as we know it.”

This article originally appeared in Robotics & Automation News.

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Remote Additive Manufacturing – A Huge Benefit of 3d Printing

Industry and military await the day that 3D Printing and Additive Manufacturing can repair and replace parts in the farthest reaches of the world

If you’ve invested millions in advanced technology, you expect it to be available all the time. Any downtime is costly for a wide variety of reasons. That’s why companies that produce complex systems (automotive, aerospace and heavy industry) have huge investments in parts inventory so that they can provide their customers with replacements to get systems back up and running in the shortest time possible. But there is an emerging scenario that will allow manufacturers to better manage their inventory process and leverage Additive Manufacturing (AM) capabilities to reduce expense and improve flexibility. In this scenario, needed parts would be be produced via Additive Manufacturing techniques on an as-needed basis, in facilities a few hours travel away from the piece of equipment in need of repair. The oil industry is researching this “just-in-time” AM opportunity, as is the military, which covets the ability to fix machinery in the field. NASA has also successfully tested AM on the International Space Station.

Where additive manufacturing could save money and reduce risk

Drilling for oil above the Arctic Circle, maintaining heavy-use airplanes on an aircraft carrier in the middle of the Indian Ocean, or replacing a defective part while circling the earth in the International Space Station are all examples of remote workplaces that stretch the common understanding of a supply chain.

That’s why the people in charge of supply chains and the associated economics are among the most fanatical proponents of additive manufacturing/3D printing.

Energy

The oil and gas industry, which is working in increasingly remote and hostile environments, views additive manufacturing as a proven technology — based on work being done in the aerospace and biomedical fields.

Components of a typical oil rig part include the mud pump, which has pistons and valves that need to be replaced every eight to 24 days. These commodity items are shipped from China. In a scenario envisioned in an article in “Today’s Energy Solutions” magazine, a small additive manufacturing operation could be set up in a shipping container to repair worn-out parts with materials that would last longer. Such a practice would reduce inventory and increase service life of the repaired parts.

Space

A 3D printer has been tested on the International Space Station to show that it can work in micro gravity. The test machine used plastic, not metal, but is considered the first step toward realizing a machine shop in space, which would be critical for any Deep Space mission. The European Space Agency is also working on plans to build a lunar base using 3D printing.

On the seas

The U.S. Navy, which must contend with repair and replacement issues that constrict the ability to store large numbers of parts or to access new ones quickly from off-ship locations, views additive manufacturing as having the potential to transform Navy logistics and maintenance capabilities.

Here are some examples:

  • Norfolk Naval Shipyard’s Rapid Prototype Lab is saving the Navy thousands of dollars on the Gerald R. Ford-class of aircraft carriers. Instead of traditional wood or metal mockups of ship alterations, which help to prevent expensive rework, the lab prints much cheaper plastic polymer models – in hours, rather than days or weeks. Now all four Navy shipyards have 3D printers working on similar, and other, ways to benefit the Navy.
  • The Navy’s Fleet Readiness Center Southeast took advantage of the ability to work with more complicated designs and unique material properties to develop an enhanced hydraulic intake manifold for the V-22 Osprey. This manifold is 70 percent lighter, improves fluid flow, and has fewer leak points than its traditionally manufactured counterpart.
  • The circuit card clip for J-6000 Tactical Support System Servers, installed onboard Los Angeles-class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines and Ohio-class nuclear-powered guided-missile submarines is no longer produced by its original manufacturer. Naval Undersea Warfare Center-Keyport uses additive manufacturing to create a supply of replacement parts to keep the fleet ready.

Challenges to reaching the next level

The technology is not yet advanced enough to accomplish some of the most imaginative and coveted tasks – providing quick repairs to allow marooned military fighters to fix a plane, helicopter or similar machine and get out of harm’s way or improve combat readiness.

But with military aircraft now operating for more years Pull quote Frazierthan originally designed, parts that were not expected to be replaced are failing. For the military, shipping electrons rather than raw materials is very appealing. Even in normal, non-combat circumstances, the future of AM offers the military ways to save money and time.

The challenges to achieving everything that can be imagined by engineers and scientists who want to build nearly anything they need through AM techniques are still basic. Dr. Ranier Hebert is director of the The Pratt & Whitney Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center at the University of Connecticut. He is investigating the physics of additive manufacturing. AM is still a relatively young process compared to traditional manufacturing, and there are questions about whether results can be duplicated from machine to machine or how different materials react under similar circumstances and at different temperatures. Those are the answers Hebert and his lab are seeking.

“It’s the type of data you can’t look up in the literature,” Hebert said. “But the advanced measurement modeling and simulation we are doing will speed up development.”

Developing ways to gain this information is critical for the day to arrive when parts can be repaired anywhere from the tundra, to the deck of a ship or even in outer space. “If we have a part spinning at 70,000 rpm and the tolerance is off,” Hebert said, “the engine will blow up. The tolerances are not yet what we need them to be.”


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Is 3D Printing the Future of Manufacturing?

Is 3D Printing the Future of Manufacturing?

3D Printing has the potential to reshape manufacturing by lowering costs and shortening the amount of time it takes to make complex parts. Much of the progress at the high end is being driven by the aerospace industry.
The precision and robust approach to testing required for success in aerospace will once again provide benefits for other industries as they get to work with vendors who have survived the experience of having their work pushed to the limit by aerospace engineers.
Small Engine Part created using Additive Manufacturing Techniques
Small Engine Part created using Additive Manufacturing Techniques

What is 3D Printing?

The 3D printing technique (also called Additive Manufacturing) builds parts by melting a metal or plastic and applying it one layer at a time. Extremely complex parts can be constructed in less time, and at lower weight, than it takes in traditional manufacturing, which might forge parts or cut them out of blocks of material. Replacement parts can be built when needed and new designs can be put into place with less prototyping.

What is the Most Ambitious 3D Printing Project?

Additive Manufacturing techniques are now being applied to nearly every field of manufacturing and repair. A 3D printed car even made the cover of Popular Mechanics last month, and there is definitely a pop-star type of glow around the concept.  The University of Connecticut is building the Pratt and Whitney Additive Manufacturing Innovation Center at its Storrs campus. GE is investing $125 million in a plant in Alabama devoted to 3D printing.  And several governmental and business organizations are encouraging inventors to push the technology.
One of them is Sikorsky Aircraft, which is looking for technology from small and large teams around the world to submit 3D Printing technology ideas to Sikorsky Innovations’ 6th Entrepreneurial Challenge. Learn more about the Sikorsky Innovation Challenge and how you might compete for $25,000 in no-strings-attached funding.

So What’s the biggest Hurdle for Mission Critical 3D Printing?

large electron beam AM machine
Electron Beam Additive Manufacturing Machine.
But 3D printing faces obstacles before it fulfills the promise many industrial experts expect of it, with the largest probably being finding a way to test complex printed parts to ensure they meet all the specifications.

How Do You Test a Complicated 3D Printed Part?

The ideal testing concept is called non-destructive testing, or NDT, which finds flaws with X-rays or other methods of figuring out what is inside the object without cutting it open. Many items created by 3D printing are extremely complex; if traditionally manufactured they would contain two dozen separate pieces. Non-destructive testing, however, is not yet advanced enough.
Greg Morris, manager of additive manufacturing and business development at GE Aviation, acknowledged that the industry still faces many challenges in finding, preventing and correcting defects in AM products. Morris said last year at the Propulsion and Energy Forum of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics that, “right now, inspection processes account for 25 percent of the total cost of parts produced additively.” Those costs, he said, must come down before the technology can gain wider acceptance.
Many experts, though, are optimistic about the future of 3D printing.. Terry Wohlers, a long-time consultant in 3D printing, pointed out that the technology has already made dramatic progress. In his newsletter, (title of newsletter and link) Wohlers said that additive manufacturing was once considered only for the creation of models, prototypes and patterns. Today, however, manufacturers like Boeing use 3D printing to produce complex environmental control ducting for military and commercial jets, significantly reducing inventory, labor, weight and maintenance.

“Given what I am seeing, I believe that AM will eventually have a greater breadth of impact on the production of products than any manufacturing technology in recent history,” Wohlers wrote.

When Do I Get to 3D Print a Car?

Which brings us back to the printed car given such prominent space by Popular Mechanics. It was made by a Phoenix-based company called Local Motors, which describes itself as a “technology company that designs, builds, and sells badass vehicles.” The car design featured in the magazine is called the Strati and was built out of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic in collaboration with Oak Ridge National Laboratory.
As Troy Stains of Popular Mechanics wrote, “Developing countries would love this technology for cheap transportation, but so might the rich guy who wants a thousand-horsepower car of his own design, printed in a production run of one. Or the carmaker that wants to churn out a complete car in ten hours rather than 24, using a fraction of the components. Modern cars are complicated, but the union of 3D printing and electric propulsion — where the motor has just one moving part — points to a future in which that’s no longer a given.”

The U.S. Government wants Additive Manufacturing and 3D Printing to Advance.

That kind of look toward the future is shared with government and business organizations alike. The U.S. Navy, in a request for proposal earlier this year, endorsed the potential of 3D printing. The technique, the Navy wrote,” is of wide interest across many industries and throughout the world …. This technology is expected to be of interest to many commercial industries, including aerospace, automotive, and medical.”

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