Beginning in 2022, NASA will place unmanned Orion spacecraft into lunar orbit, followed by crewed landings, construction of lunar habitats and supporting infrastructure, and ultimately, preparation for a visit to Mars.
Additive manufacturing (AM), or 3D printing, is one of the technologies that enables such ambitious plans. “As with any complex endeavour, the more affordable you can make it, the greater the chance that you will ensure its completion, and the Moon is no different,” said James Horton, Aerospace Engineer and Mission Architect at Aerojet Rocketdyne. “Metal AM plays a key role in achieving these goals.”
Lunar landers could use 3D-printed rocket engine parts that bring down manufacturing costs and production times.
NASA recently hot-fire tested a pair of 3D-printed components designed for rocket engines, a combustion chamber and nozzle. They are 3D printed out of a high-strength, hydrogen-resistant alloy and should withstand the combustion environments that until now only traditionally manufactured metal structures were able to.
The high-strength iron-nickel superalloy nozzle was printed using a method called laser powder directed energy deposition, which deposits and melts the metal powder to create freeform structures. This method let NASA turn out small- and large-scale components.
Markforged, provider of metal and carbon fiber 3D printers, announced Wärtsilä — a technology group servicing the marine and energy markets — has achieved a breakthrough with the development of a 3D printed composite lifting tool for its engines by using Markforged additive manufacturing technology. The tool has been designed, produced, and tested by Wärtsilä in its premises using the company’s Additive Manufacturing Network. The testing procedure was carried out in collaboration with international certification agency Bureau Veritas, which has granted the tool Type Approval certification. For more information see the IDTechEx report on 3D Printing Composites 2020-2030: Technology and Market Analysis.
In order to service engines found in the field or in the factories, Wärtsilä’s teams often rely on custom lifting tools to move immensely heavy engine parts such as pistons. Traditionally, those tools are forged out of solid steel and are expensive, time intensive to manufacture, and too heavy to easily use or transport. The team turned to Markforged 3D printers to find a solution.
3D printing is no longer tomorrow’s promise; it is available for manufacture today. But with much competition in the investment sphere of technological innovations, from Artificial Intelligence to Augmented Reality, how do you make the business case for 3D?
Down the road, 3D printing will bring about a radical new era of total supply chain transformation, with local, print on demand solutions dramatically reducing both costs and time to market. But this will take time and, as Paul Croft, Director, Ultimaker GB explains; any business dealing with additive manufacture can explore 3D printing to achieve incremental gains today.
Following a letter from U.S. Senator, Chuck Grassley demanding justification for the U.S. Department of Defense’s (DoD) expenditure on $10,000 military aircraft toilet seat covers, Airforce officials have announced that it will now pay $300 to produce the part thanks to 3D printing.
“You’ll think: there’s no way it costs that,” said Dr. Will Roper, the Assistant Secretary of the Air Force for Acquisition, Technology, and Logistics in a recent interview with Defense One.
“It doesn’t, but you’re asking a company to produce it and they’re producing something else. And for them to produce this part for us, they have to quit what they’re making now. They’re losing revenue and profit.”
The Moog Aircraft Group is already a key part of the supply chain for many aerospace/defence companies including Lockheed Martin, Boeing, Airbus and Northrop Grumman. In collaboration with SYS Systems, Moog identified FDM 3D printing as the best solution for producing bespoke fixtures, used in the machines that qualify aerospace-grade parts.
South African biotech startup Akili Labs has developed FieldLab, an accurate, affordable and portable 3D printed diagnostics lab that can cost as little as $1,500, or one-tenth of similar equipment.
The FieldLab was created by Akili Labs co-founders and Rhodes University Biotechnology Innovation Centre (RUBIC) graduate students Charles Faul and Lucas Lotter. Their aim is to give doctors and scientists a rapid and accurate means of identifying disease outbreaks on the spot.
The FieldLab in a box
FieldLab is a rapid field-testing “lab-in-a-box.” It allows medical professionals in remote areas and conflict zones to access equipment typically found in state-of-the-art diagnostic laboratories. By testing for certain viruses, bacteria, and fungi on site, they can quickly identify an outbreak of disease and take the necessary measures before it spreads and becomes an epidemic.
US Nuclear Energy company Westinghouse has announced that it will be installing an additively manufactured fuel component by 2018. In doing so, it hopes to be the first company to do so for a commercial reactor.
The part in question will be a thimble plugging device, and its manufacturing and eventual installation will follow muliple simultaneous research and development into reducing costs for 3D printing obsolete components, fuel structural devices and prototypes.
The R&D projects include both internal research into 3D printed parts and two projects funded by the US Department of Energy.