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Even Aerospace Is Going Gaga Over 3D Printing

It was probably only a matter of time before the idea of using 3D printing in aerospace applications would catch on, given the growing buzz about it the world over. It appears that time has come.

The Verge reports that NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) are jumping on the 3D bandwagon and will be “actively pursuing 3D-printed metal components for use in spacecraft, planes, and even nuclear fusion applications.”

Over the summer, NASA tested a 3D printed rocket engine component during an engine firing that generated a record 20,000 pounds of thrust. “This successful test of a 3-D printed rocket injector brings NASA significantly closer to proving this innovative technology can be used to reduce the cost of flight hardware,” Chris Singer, director of the Engineering Directorate at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., said in a press release.

The ESA and the European Commission have launched the AMAZE project with 28 industrial and educational partners in an effort to perfect the printing of space-quality metal components.

The ESA said in a press release:

3D printing is getting ready to revolutionise space travel. ESA is paving the way for 3D-printed metals to build high-quality, intricate shapes with massive cost savings…
AMAZE aims to put the first 3D metal printer on the International Space Station allowing astronauts to produce tools and new structures on demand.
The project envisages printing entire satellites and using the technology for missions to the Moon and Mars… To get to that future, ESA is looking at five metal additive manufacturing processes

David Jarvis, the ESA's head of new materials and energy research, said in the release, “We are focusing on serious engineering components made of very high-tech alloys. We are using lasers, electron beams and even plasma to melt them.”

Also from the ESA release:

A quartet of pilot factories – each one employing different metallic 3D printing methods – are being set up in Germany, Italy, Norway and the UK. In parallel, a full industrial supply chain is being established for metallic 3D printing, incorporating feedstock alloys, printing equipment, finishing techniques, metrology and control software.

Jon Meyer, additive layer manufacturing research team leader at EADS Innovation Works, said in the release that 3D printing requires high-quality materials, a repeatable process, and extensive supply chain support. And that's the rub, isn't it? How quickly can the supply chain be developed to support this new field of study?

Finding new ways to use 3D printing seems to dovetail well with the aerospace sector's long history of cool research, but it's interesting that the industry seems tickled pink by the potential use and cost-effectiveness of additive manufacturing. The industry usually does not adopt the technology flavor of the day, and given its highly technical component requirements and long product life cycles, product development investment usually spans many years.

So maybe now is the time to ask some questions. What kind of strategic supply chain plans are electronic companies developing to include 3D-printed products into the design, sourcing, and purchasing process? How will raw material and traditional component sourcing be impacted? How will the supply chain evolve to meet the needs of the most demanding applications needed on Earth and fit for space?

How do you see it?

26 comments on “Even Aerospace Is Going Gaga Over 3D Printing

  1. SP
    November 11, 2013

    Looks like 3D printing is goin to create next revolution in the electronics industry. Expolring Mars and moon quite interesting..

  2. Daniel
    November 11, 2013

    “It was probably only a matter of time before the idea of using 3D printing in aerospace applications would catch on, given the growing buzz about it the world over. It appears that time has come.”

    Jennifer, if am not wrong NASA is using 3D printers in space stations.

  3. Daniel
    November 11, 2013

    “Looks like 3D printing is goin to create next revolution in the electronics industry. Expolring Mars and moon quite interesting..”

    SP, 3D printing and printer are already productized. The latest developments are about 5D and it  may get release soon.

  4. t.alex
    November 12, 2013

    How different is it when they “print” out this component as compared to traditional method? Is the process much faster?

  5. t.alex
    November 12, 2013

    How different is it when they “print” out this component as compared to traditional method? Is the process much faster?

  6. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    November 12, 2013

    @Jacob, I believe you are right about that. The LA Times covered that just this fall: NASA to send 3-D printer to space station to churn out parts – Los

  7. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    November 12, 2013

    @t.alex. this saves a bunch of time, particularly if you are in a place where it is hard to get parts (the jungle, or outerspace or whatever).  It's huge.

  8. Daniel
    November 12, 2013

    “How different is it when they “print” out this component as compared to traditional method? Is the process much faster?”

    Alex, I don't have much idea about it, but may be faster than the conventional methods. For conventional methods, they have to make the dye and to go through various processes for getting the shapes molded. In YouTube I had seen a video about 3D printing and it seems that the process are similar like a screen/ flex printing technology.

  9. Daniel
    November 12, 2013

    “this saves a bunch of time, particularly if you are in a place where it is hard to get parts (the jungle, or outerspace or whatever).  It's huge.'

    Hailey, in these places chances for getting a 3D printer is also difficult.

  10. t.alex
    November 14, 2013

    Hailey, how much is it costlier   than the traditional process?

  11. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    November 14, 2013

    Of course, Jacob. but it's a one to many situation. You only have to get the 3D printer once (and then consujmables periodically). the parts you need all the time. YOu could take one with you of course.

  12. Daniel
    November 14, 2013

    “but it's a one to many situation. You only have to get the 3D printer once (and then consujmables periodically). the parts you need all the time. YOu could take one with you of course.”

    Its only possible with well prepared peoples.

  13. Ariella
    November 14, 2013

    @Hailey and the next thing you know, we'll have a Star Trek style replicator on board space ships!

  14. Ariella
    November 14, 2013

    @Hailey After I left that comment I saw this: How NASA Will Use 3D Printers in Space

    “The 3D printer that we're going to fly on space station will actually be the first-ever 3-D printer in space,” Niki Werkheiser, 3-D Print project manager at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., said in a video about the space station 3-D printer that posted online Oct. 30.

    “It is the first step toward [the 'Star Trek' replicator],” Werkheiser added, referring to the machine in the science-fiction franchise capable of creating meals and spare parts.

  15. Ariella
    November 16, 2013

    @Hailey yes, 3D printing is very hot now. In fact, there probably would be enough material to devote a whole board to it. 

  16. Daniel
    November 17, 2013

    “the next thing you know, we'll have a Star Trek style replicator on board space ships!”

    Ariella, can you provide some more details about this Star Trek style replicator

  17. Daniel
    November 17, 2013

    “3D printing is very hot now. In fact, there probably would be enough material to devote a whole board to it. “

    Ariella, the debate over 3D printer and printing level are over and now deployment at application level is going on. Current hot topic is 5D printing technology.

  18. Daniel
    November 17, 2013

    Hailey, have you found any application in healthcare or medical segment, where these 3D printers can be used effectively.

  19. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    November 26, 2013

    @Jacob, some of the most exciting developments in 3D printing are in healthcare/medicine. They are printing organs and prosthesis on 3D printers. Here are some cool reads:

    3D Printing Is a Matter of Life and Death – Mashable

    3 Ways 3-D Printing Could Revolutionize Healthcare | HealthBiz

    3D Printing Industry Report – Medical and Healthcare Markets

    Perfectly Fitting Soft Tissue Prostheses – the Healthcare Revolution

     

  20. itguyphil
    November 26, 2013

    I saw that Mashable story a while back. Good stuff. Scary to think of “fake” organs being put into your body but I guess if it improves your quality of life, why not?

  21. Hailey Lynne McKeefry
    November 26, 2013

    well, years ago the surgeons were using pig heart valves to save people… it seems like kind of a toss up to me. 🙂

  22. Daniel
    November 27, 2013

    “some of the most exciting developments in 3D printing are in healthcare/medicine. They are printing organs and prosthesis on 3D printers. Here are some cool reads:”

    Hailey, oho that's great news. Thanks for the links and hope it can make revolutionary changes in health care sector.

  23. Houngbo_Hospice
    November 28, 2013

    In the end what matters is the usefulness of the technology. If 3D printing can be used to save life or can be used to improve people lifestyle, so be it.

  24. Daniel
    November 28, 2013

    “In the end what matters is the usefulness of the technology. If 3D printing can be used to save life or can be used to improve people lifestyle, so be it.”

    You are right Hospic; the ultimate aim is human advancement and benefit.

  25. itguyphil
    November 29, 2013

    My guess is if someone has the option, they'd go with the survival choice.

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