Jun 15, 2016 | By Alec

The first commercial 3D printer in space is in operation. Made In Space’s Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF) was sent to the International Space Station (ISS) several weeks ago, where astronauts were working to install and test this new 3D printer. The successor to the first zero-gravity 3D printer, the AMF is especially remarkable for not just being used by astronauts to 3D print tools and replacement parts for use aboard the ISS, but also for being open to third-party clients here on earth. And it is now up and running, as the AMF has just completed its first production: a 3D printed wrench designed for use in zero-gravity environments.

This is a fantastic result for the team of engineers and astronauts, who have been working towards this moment for months. The world’s first zero-gravity 3D printer by Made In Space already proved that 3D printers can be excellent research and maintenance tools in space, enabling astronauts to construct necessary parts and replacement components on the fly. That 3D printer was sent into space in 2014, with tests running until 2016. NASA, a big proponent of 3D printing, has repeatedly argued that the technology could potentially save millions by reducing the need for costly rocket launches that transport supplies. It could also make space exploration missions far more self-sufficient.

With the Additive Manufacturing Facility, which was launched into space in March, Made In Space is now seeking to make that concept a reality. But flexible construction is just one application for the AMF, which is now becoming much more than an emergency tool shop. Made In Space is now also using the in-space machine to print out objects for third-party clients. The 3D printer itself will remain the property of Made In Space, who set up a collaboration with the Innovation Labs of US home improvement retailer Lowe’s for this ‘first hardware store in space’.

In the near future, Made In Space and Lowe’s will use the fully operational AMF to produce branded tools, and this first 3D printed wrench is a big step in that direction. “[The AMF] can be accessed by any Earth-bound customer for job-specific work, like a machine shop in space,” the Made In Space team said after the installation. “Example use cases include a medical device company prototyping space-optimized designs, or a satellite manufacturer testing new deployable geometries, or creating tools for ISS crew members.”

This concept is reflected in the new wrench, on which the name of tool-making company Kobalt has been emblazoned. It also features a special clip that makes it easier to keep in place in zero-gravity situations. “It demonstrates the capability of the AMF to manufacture purpose-specific tools and hardware on demand,” Lowe’s manager of corporate public relations Jenny Popis revealed. “Astronauts and researchers can get creative and print items they need within the size constraints of the printer bed, which is 10 cm x 14 cm x 10 cm [3.9 by 5.5 by 3.9 inches].”

The concept, of course, is fantastic: who wouldn’t want their product to be made in space? While you can wonder if it’s practical or economically viable, the marketing possibilities are obviously endless. This is also reflected in the immense response Made In Space has received so far; more than six months’ worth of commercial 3D printing projects are already lined up for the AMF, so you’ll have to act quick if you want to get in on this action.

 

 

Posted in 3D Printing Technology

 

 

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Neil Hamilton wrote at 6/17/2016 7:25:59 PM:

It would be cool if you could cycle test it in space too to get real-world results....

GW Montreal, Canada wrote at 6/15/2016 9:32:01 PM:

Can anyone tell me: The product has an opening in the other end. Is it by design, or the imperfect operation of the #D printer in space?

bodislam wrote at 6/15/2016 3:40:07 PM:

that's terrificant

Biged Fromny wrote at 6/15/2016 1:27:18 PM:

So it's a normal FDM 3D Printer that, instead of being located on Earth, is located on a space capsule. Woopty Doo. Unless you can tell me the parts never need support structures due to zero gravity, this is hardly an accomplishment.



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