Oct.18, 2013

If you want to know the future of 3D printing, the London Science Museum is the place to be. The European Space Agency (ESA) has unveiled plans to 'take 3D printing into the metal age' by developing the first large-scale production methods to 3D-print with metal. Samples of 3D printed metal were shown in the London Science Museum, showing ESA is paving the way for 3D-printed metals to build high-quality, intricate shapes with massive cost savings.

Credits: ESA-N. Vicente

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. With no need of launching heavy payloads, manufacturing in space could save huge amounts of time and money.

Sandwich structure aerofoil demonstrator in Titanium Credit: Cranfield University

ESA is evaluating the potential of five metal additive manufacturing processes. "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," explains David Jarvis, ESA's Head of New Materials and Energy Research. Some of the materials AMAZE works with only melt at 3,500°C (6,330° F).

The project's goal is near zero waste production, so new materials are also a possibility. High-strength and lightweight components can be built by combining exotic – and expensive – elements such as tungsten, niobium or platinum with no waste.

Foreground: Sandwich structure aerofoil demonstrator in Titanium; Middle: Topology optimised A380 bracket in stainless steel; Background: Conventional A380 bracket in stainless steel - All produced at the Centre for Additive Layer Manufacturing (CALM) using the Electron beam and laser chambers. Credit: EADS

Technology developed by the project is also expected to have numerous applications on the ground: aircraft wings, jet engines and automotive systems will benefit from the highest quality that AMAZE technology offers.

Improved 3D part. (Credit: Cranfield University)

AMAZE involves 28 industrial partners across Europe, most of the work to tune this novel technology for industrial applications on Earth is being done on the ground in laboratories. 'Factories of the future' are being set up in Germany, Italy, Norway and the UK.

Before taking a 3D printer to the International Space Station, ESA will test the technology on parabolic aircraft flights and suborbital rockets to see how weightlessness affects the behaviour of the liquid metals.

Foreground: topology optimised A320 nacelle hinge demonstrator; background: conventional A320 nacelle hinge. Credit: EADS

"We want to build the best quality metal products ever made," said Jarvis, one of his ambitions is to be able to produce large metal parts within 24 hours. "The future is going to be amazing."


Source: ESA


Posted in 3D Printing Technology



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