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.

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

Q&A: Eric Utley Discusses the Advantages of Stereolithography

Eric Utley, application specialist at Proto Labs.

We’ve been 3D printing for a while now, and our facility in Raleigh, North Carolina is packed with 3D printing specialists. For this installment of our Q&A, we spoke with one of those experts, Eric Utley, application specialist, for a chat about stereolithography and why product designers and engineers need it for prototyping.

To start off, can you give a quick overview of the stereolithography (SL) process?
Stereolithography uses UV light shot from a laser to cure a liquid thermoset resin called a photopolymer. In fact, even though 3D printing is often thought of as a new technology, SL has been around since the 1980s. But there’s a reason it has stuck around for so long — it has some key features that product designers need for prototypes.

What are some of those key features unique to SL?
I’d say the most important feature is that it creates a very high-resolution part with excellent surface finishes.

It can handle micro-sized features so it’s most suitable for parts that have a high level of detail. Most SL parts will have a nice, smooth finish and, although it’s typically used for prototyping, it leaves you with the feel of a final part — and looks go along way when sharing your new product design.

Another important benefit of SL is that it’s our most flexible process in terms of geometry it can handle, which gives designers a lot of freedom to work with.

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HP Selects Proto Labs to Test New 3D Printing Technology

HP Inc. made its announcement Tuesday morning at RAPID, the 3D printing trade show underway this week in Orlando. Here’s a glimpse of HP’s booth at RAPID.

Proto Labs has been selected by HP Inc. as a product testing site for the printing and PC giant’s new HP Multi Jet Fusion technology for industrial-grade 3D printing.

HP announced its new technology today at RAPID, a 3D printing and additive manufacturing trade show underway in Orlando, Florida through May 19. Proto Labs is at RAPID. You can find us at booth #443 to talk with a customer service engineer about our industrial-grade 3D printing services.

We’re excited to test drive this new technology that looks to be a dramatic leap ahead in 3D printing. We are looking forward to collaborating with HP on this new platform that promises to be faster and more economical than currently available 3D printing options.

Proto Labs’ staffers take a short photo break during RAPID underway all week in Orlando. From left, Joe Cretella, Greg Thompson, Rob Connelly and Thomas Davis. Visit Proto Labs at booth #443.

Proto Labs is one of several companies HP is working with as part of the company’s Early Customer Engagement Program, which conducts product testing and garners user feedback.

We were chosen because of our extensive experience as a prime user of industrial-grade 3D printing technology (also known as additive manufacturing) for our prototyping and low-volume manufacturing services.

READ THE FULL PRESS RELEASE ANNOUNCEMENT

WEBINAR: Improving Manufacturability with ProtoQuote

Join us for a webinar on improving part manufacturability. Our technical specialist Tony Holtz will demonstrate how to navigate ProtoQuote to optimize your design for 3D printing, CNC machining or injection molding. 

tonyholtz

In case you’re unfamiliar with ProtoQuote, it’s our fully automated quoting and design analysis software. Simply put – it makes your life a whole lot easier. It allows you to know exactly how much a part will cost and provides an analysis of your design within hours.

Sign up and learn how to tap into the full potential of ProtoQuote and its design for manufacturability analysis:

TITLE: Improving Manufacturability with ProtoQuote
DATE:  Thursday, May 26 at 1 p.m. CDT
LINK: Click here to register!

At the end of the presentation, there will be time for a Q&A session.  Have a colleague who might be interested? We’d love to have them join as well. And if you can’t make it at the specified time, you can still register and we’ll send you a recording afterward.