EYE ON INNOVATION: 3D Printer Boldly Goes Where No Printer Has Gone Before

3D printing continues to break the bonds of traditional manufacturing methods. Now, a private company collaborating with NASA is breaking Earth’s bonds by taking 3D printing into space.

In April, at the International Space Station, NASA successfully tested a zero-gravity 3D printer that’s been in development for several years from California-based Made in Space.

Photo Courtesy: NASA

NASA found that the specially designed, zero-gravity 3D printer could in fact manufacture parts and tools on-site and on-demand. As NASA points out on its website, this on-site, in-orbit manufacturing ability would be a huge benefit for long-term, deep-space missions with restrictions on weight and room for cargo. The tests on board the space station included successfully printing items such as wrenches. So far, more than 25 objects have been produced.

As Gizmag.com reports, the zero-gravity printer is an extrusion printer that, like other 3D printers, builds up layers of hot liquefied ABS thermoplastic to create an object. However, a number of factors had to be taken into consideration for designing it to work in a zero-gravity environment. Components that might previously have been partly held in place by gravity had to be redesigned, thermal processes had to be recalculated and the layering process had to be reconsidered. The printing functions were then all integrated into what is called the Microgravity Science Glovebox (MSG), part of an overall platform dubbed the Additive Manufacturing Facility (AMF).

Photo Courtesy: Made in Space

As a spokesman for Made in Space says in a promotional video: “The goal…is pretty simple, but audacious…to develop the necessary technologies to allow humanity to move beyond Earth and live on other planets.”

Meanwhile, more down-to-earth considerations include, as Wonderfulengineering.com reports, Made in Space’s announcement this week that it is “going commercial and inviting the public [to purchase parts] made in the unique presence of zero gravity.”

Eye on Innovation is a monthly look at new technology and products.

On-Demand Webinar: Improving Manufacturability with ProtoQuote

Last week we hosted a quick webinar that explored how designers can use ProtoQuote to improve the manufacturability of their design. It’s available on-demand here.

Key Takeaways

  • How to get free design for manufacturability feedback for your part
  • Improving manufacturability by adding draft, adjusting wall thickness and incorporating radii
  • How to navigate ProtoQuote for each of our processes: 3D printing, CNC machining and injection molding

Top Questions Asked

Will Proto Labs help simplify my CAD file?
Yes, along with our automated DFM feedback, we have a full staff of engineers that will work with you on simplifying your design. Once you upload a 3D CAD file, they will look at it and explore ways of improving overall manufacturability and provide guidance based on your part’s requirements and intended application.

Are there any general design tips to avoid parts having side-pulls or side-actions?
Our free design cube shows the different side-actions that we use to produce parts. And, if you have snap features on your part that might require side-actions, you can cut away that geometry and use a pass-through core to alleviate the need for a side-pull or cam.

We also have resources that discuss implementing side-actions, as well as eliminating the need for them:

What are the material options for opaque materials for lighting applications?
We offer polycarbonate materials that provide transparent options for lighting and other applications requiring transparent materials. We provide multiple PC colors: amber, green, blue, transparent and even infrared.

Stay Tuned
Look for additional technical webinars throughout the year on various 3D printing, CNC machining or injection molding topics. The next webinar will be part one in a series of 3D printing webinars and we’ll discuss designing for stereolithography.

DESIGN TIP: Metal 3D Printing Redefines Part Design

Metal 3D printing is helping to redefine part design, with capabilities to build ever-increasingly complex parts in less time and with little human intervention. Welcome to the industrial-grade 3D printing process of direct metal laser sintering (DMLS), which is the focus of our monthly design tip.

Med device developers are turning to industrial-grade metal 3D printing to produce a variety of prototype and end-use parts, including these components used for surgical instruments.

Through additive manufacturing technology, DMLS produces fully function metal prototypes and end-use parts, simplifies assembly by reducing component counts, offers virtually unlimited complexity with no additional cost, and works for a variety of industries, including the med device space (see part photo).

This month’s tip discusses:

  • A short overview of DMLS
  • Ways to avoid warping and curling with certain part features
  • Part orientation
  • Wall thickness considerations

READ FULL DESIGN TIP

Auto-mation: Can Market Adoption of Autonomous Cars Match the hype?

The automotive industry, including the disruptive tech giants, are investing tremendous amounts of funding and human capital into the development of autonomous vehicles and related technologies. Evidence of this is General Motors’ $500 million investment in Lyft and $1 billion into the upcoming acquisition of Cruise Automation Inc. It’s difficult to read about the automotive industry without encountering discussions around autonomous driving. The auto industry is hiring software developers at a pace once that was once limited to mechanical and industrial engineers.

A rendering of possible autonomous driving interaction. Source: General Motors

Market Adoption … Eventually
So, why is the auto industry going down this path when a majority of the American consumers flat out do not want a driverless car or trust the concept yet? A recent J.D. Power survey found that just over half of Gen Z and Gen Y are interested — that’s surprisingly low, since these groups are more comfortable with public transportation and delay owning a car more than previous generations. And only about 41% of Gen Xers support self-driving technology, a rate that shrinks further for the baby boomers at 23%. It’s important to note here that the peak age for purchasing a new car is 43 years old.

The answer lies in the fact that the “R” in automotive R&D historically occurs 10 to 20 years before actually moving to production lines. This extended timeline frequently means the industry is working on things the consumer has not yet even taken into account. But as discussed in an earlier post, recent tech giant disruptions are shortening this product development cycle.

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Q&A: Rapid Manufacturing Fit for High-Speed Bike Design

Every year, cyclists converge in Battle Mountain, Nevada in pursuit of achieving speed records at the World Human Powered Speed Challenge (WHPSC). The competition is a mix of athletic performance, engineering and a seemingly endless number of variables. This past fall, Teagan Patterson, a Battle Mountain native and high-speed bicyclist, teamed up with Eric Ware and Mark Anderson to design a bicycle capable of capturing the world record — and her lifelong dream. 

Mark and Eric are veterans of the WHPSC having raced in 2009 with their vehicle, the Wedge, and reaching speeds above 70 mph — good for the eighth fastest time in the world and third fastest in American cycling history.

Drawing from their previous success, they worked with Teagan in preparation for the 2015 WHPSC, where they would try for another record.

Eric Ware knew Proto Labs from his day job as a mechanical engineer, so he decided to call us up for some machined parts for the bicycle design. In this Q&A, Ware gives a look behind-the-scenes at his team’s project.

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