Feb.12, 2014

The next generation of manufacturing technology will require complete spatial control of material and functionality as structures are created layer-by-layer, providing fully customizable, high value, multi-functional products for consumer, biomedical, aerospace and defense industries.

A team of university and corporate partners, led by The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP), has started a project to create an automated assembly line of 3D printers. The automated assembly line is meant to manufacture unmanned aerial vehicles and satellites which would then be used in space.

"Our proposing team can see a day where a push-button design flow will lead to a rapid, reliable and affordable fully 3D printed spacecraft or UAV," UTEP researchers wrote in their proposal to America Makes.

"The ability to proceed from design to operational use in 24 hours makes the space and airborne resources truly responsive. The team believes we currently have the skills, tools and proven results to advance the concepts of a fully printable aerospace asset."

First researchers will focus on creating an additive manufacturing printing system that can fabricate multi-material aerospace components with multi-functional purposes.

A preliminary version of the proposed system is shown in the image below and includes several sub-processes with a conveyance system to translate a device-under-construction between stages.

The machine will not only be able to print multiple materials using a series of 3-D printers, but will become a manufacturing suite all on its own – with abilities like micromachining, robotic placement of electronic components, and the ability to connect electronic components with wiring.

The photo below illustrates a cross-section of a conceptual model of a 3D structure with embedded wires and components within a multi-material substrate providing mechanical, thermal and electromagnetic functionality.

The team's ultimate goal is to manufacture unmanned aerial vehicles and satellites and test them in the harsh environments of air and space.

UTEP's W.M. Keck Center for 3D Innovation will lead a collaborative team that also includes the University of New Mexico, Youngstown State University, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, rp+m, and Stratasys.


Posted in 3D Printers



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